History of Congregation B'nai Torah
Education, lifecycle support, lay leadership, and inclusiveness were the key goals of the handful of Sudbury families who formed Congregation B’nai Torah in 1974. Their goals for education and lifecycle support were simple -- they wanted their children to know and be proud of their heritage and culture, so that their sense of Jewish identity would remain with them throughout their lives (hence the name "B’nai Torah" or "Children of the Torah"). Lifecycle support was to provide help, solace and hope to congregants and their families during times of illness, suffering, loss, while at the same time efforts were made to reach out to those families celebrating joyful transitions such as births, b'nai mitzvot and weddings. Their goal of inclusiveness was more complex -- a desire to embrace anyone living in the Sudbury region who wanted to join a self-determining, religious Jewish community to educate their children and to participate in the rituals of our faith.
Now, many decades later, nearly two hundred families are realizing the goals set forth by B’nai Torah’s founding families -- a warm, welcoming community, comprehensive educational programs, meaningful religious obervances, and a menu of services for the entire lifecycle. In addition to our professional leadership, we still rely upon remarkably able and committed lay leadership which has strengthened us as a caring community.
B’nai Torah’s first members came from every discipline of Judaism -- Orthodox, Conservative, Reform, and Ethical Cultural. Many interfaith married couples also joined, as the only requirement for inclusion was, and remains today, their desire to participate in our worship services and educational programs.
Congregation B’nai Torah came to life in the fall of 1974 at Rosh Hashanah services held in the Martha Mary Chapel at the Wayside Inn in Sudbury. Using a Torah from a now-defunct congregation in Dorchester and prayer books donated by Temple Ohabei Shalom of Brookline, members conducted the High Holiday services themselves accompanied only by a paid guitarist. A second Torah, a Holocaust "survivor" from Czechoslovakia, was acquired by the congregation in 1975. These same members also taught in and developed the Hebrew school curriculum for their children.
During the congregation’s first few years, High Holiday services were held at the Martha Mary Chapel. Thanks to our non-Jewish neighbors, Hebrew school and once-a-month Friday evening Sabbath services were celebrated in several places including the Sudbury United Methodist Church and the First Parish of Sudbury. Occasionally, services were conducted at St. Elizabeth’s Episcopal Church, Heritage Park, Sudbury Town Hall, or in congregants’ homes. As children reached Bar and Bat Mitzvah age, each family organized and led their own ceremony, either alone or with the assistance of more experienced members.
Self determination remained the spirit of the congregation, even after it hired its first professional leader, the late Cantor Joe Markind, in 1978. Cantor Markind’s music and religious leadership brought the congregation to a new level. In 1984, the congregation leased its first home at the Loring School on Woodside Road in Sudbury. Since the retirement of Cantor Markind in 1991, B’nai Torah has been served by several talented cantorial soloists, including Elizabeth Anker, Julia Priest, Lee Daum, Jacqueline Breines, and beginning in 2016 David Smerling.
In 1988, after voting to change the by-laws, the congregation sought professional rabbinical leadership for the first time by hiring a part-time rabbi. Rabbi Reuvan Firestone, who was also a professor at Boston University, delivered both leadership and rich academic scholarship to the congregation for three years. Rabbi Firestone was followed by Rabbi Deanna Douglas, who conducted the first adult B’nai Mitzvah, Rabbi Boaz Heilman, who became the congregation's first full-time Rabbi in 1996 and oversaw a period of tremendous growth, and Rabbi Lisa Eiduson, who joined the congregation on July 1, 2015 and has rapidly engaged the CBT community with her genuine warmth, intellect, and dynamic leadership.
In 1996, 88 B’nai Torah families felt the need to establish a permanent home. In less than two years, funds were raised, land purchased, and a beautiful building constructed on Boston Post Road (Route 20) in Sudbury. On Sunday, September 13, 1998, B’nai Torah members, accompanied by a klezmer band riding on a horse drawn wagon, walked the Torahs through the streets of Sudbury to their new home. Community members lined the road to wish the congregation well. The new sanctuary, school and office building was dedicated with hundreds of people in attendance, including many religious and political leaders from throughout the region.
As Congregation B’nai Torah continues into the 21st century, its members remain committed to the goals established by the founding families of education, lifecycle support, volunteerism, and inclusion in order to ensure that we shall always meet the needs of the Jewish community in the Metrowest area and retain the spirit of innovation which has characterized B'nai Torah throughout its existence.