By Rachel Gross
Large enough to serve you, small enough to know you — this is the slogan of Congregation Beth Torah and the philosophy it’s followed since it started in 1974. In that time, the Conservative synagogue has prided itself on being participatory and egalitarian, while making a name for itself in the Metroplex.
Beth Torah will celebrate its 40th birthday with a “40 and Fabulous Birthday Bash,” at 8 p.m., Saturday, Nov. 1 at the synagogue, 720 W. Lookout Drive in Richardson. The evening will feature hors d’oeuvres and an open bar, a musical satire by Mark Kreditor, music by the Paul Utay Jazz band, a live and silent auction, dessert and more.
“We are hoping people will walk away saying this was a fun event,” said Nat Cohen, a past president who is co-chairing the party with his wife, Esther. They have been members at Beth Torah since moving to Dallas 30 years ago. “The synagogue feels rejuvenated and there is a lot going on. We feel like the future is bright and this is the perfect time to celebrate.”
Rabbi Elana Zelony became Beth Torah’s spiritual leader this summer and brings a fresh, exhilarated perspective, Cohen added, so that’s another reason why they felt this was a good time to commemorate this milestone.
The number 40 also is significant in the Jewish tradition, which makes the celebration even more meaningful.
“The number of 40 in the Torah is a sign of completion,” Zelony said. “It rained for 40 days and 40 nights, and then we wandered for 40 years and had to know what to do next. It’s a whole new phase for us. I am really excited to celebrate and looking to figuring out what the next 40 years will bring.”
Beth Torah built a permanent facility in 1982 and after dynamic growth, added an education wing in 1995. A multipurpose room was added to hold junior congregation services, celebrations, lectures and youth activities. The sanctuary has been renovated as well.
Going forward, the hope is to pay off the mortgage of the building, grow the number of young families and allow people to get involved in any way possible, which has been at the heart of Beth Torah during the past 40 years.
Esther Cohen, the former preschool director at Beth Torah, said what makes the congregation so special is the fact that is has always been accepting to anyone and its close-knit community.
“We are little, but mighty,” she said. “When you join a congregation like Beth Torah, people don’t make you get involved, but you realize there is a need and that’s the beauty of this synagogue. If you want to volunteer, there is space to do that and really make a difference. After 40 years, there is a transition from being young, to taking your place in the community, and that’s what Beth Torah has done.”
Beth Torah began with six founding families and has blossomed into a thriving shul of about 350 families. Patti and Howard Fields are one of those families and still belong there.
In 1974, there was no conservative synagogue North of LBJ Freeway and the founders were looking for a community to join, as most of them were transplants, Patti Fields noted. They had a vision for the future, but had no idea Beth Torah would grow into what it is today.
“We felt we were staring the next Conservative shul,” Patti Fields said. “We all became family for each other. We were young when we started Beth Torah and didn’t realize we were beginning something that would be around 40 years later. It’s wonderful that it turned out that way.”
Although there have been some transitions along the way with new rabbis, closing the preschool and other changes that have occurred, all of those have been done to make the synagogue better, according to Beth Torah President Alan Hoffman.
He is pleased with where the congregation is right now with the addition of Rabbi Zelony, its renewed energy and many new members that have recently joined.
“This celebration shows that the idea the founders had 40 years ago is still vibrant today,” Hoffman said. “Volunteers are really what has kept the shul running and every activity we do, except for education, is done by a volunteer. That’s what makes Beth Torah unique — when people look at our synagogue, they see it as a large family that helps each other. It’s fabulous getting to celebrate all 40 years together.”
Tickets for the birthday bash are $54 per person. For more information and to purchase tickets, contact Elaine Scharf at 972-307-3521 or firstname.lastname@example.org.