Congregation Beth-El hosts an evening minyan
Photo: Courtesy Beth-El Congregation 
Max Pell (facing camera), of Fort Worth, leads the evening minyan at Beth-El Congregation on Thursday, May 16, 2024. Pell and fellow Fort Worthian Seme Dewees-Cooper usually lead the minyan, which started last year.

By Michael Sudhalter

Beth-El Congregation has served the Fort Worth Jewish community since 1902 and the city’s Reform community, specifically, since 1907.

But until last year, Beth-El never had a minyan, which is something of an anomaly among Reform congregations.

Beth-El and Temple Emanu-El in Dallas are believed to be the only Reform synagogues in the Metroplex with minyans.

A dedicated group of Beth-El congregants have kept a 6 p.m. minyan going, Mondays through Thursdays.

“You want to create opportunities for people to form communities, say Kaddish and take care of one another,” Beth-El Rabbi Brian Zimmerman said. “It’s hard to do, but you need the right group and the right timing. For me, it’s great to be here in the congregation (during minyan).”

Zimmerman remembers when his grandfather passed away in the 1980s and one of his grandfather’s friends started a minyan at his New York City synagogue.

That’s similar to what happened at Beth-El when congregants wished to honor the memories of recently deceased relatives. It is open to anyone who wishes to attend.

The Beth-El evening minyan started on April 17, 2023; it is lay-led, usually by Seme Dewees-Cooper or Max Pell. Other regulars include Dewees-Cooper’s husband, Mark Cooper; Dr. Michael Ross; and Marty Rubinson.

Zimmerman initially helped the congregants with the minyan, but they picked it up quickly and he has taken on more of an observer role. The rabbi usually attends the 20-minute minyan once or twice per week.

“I told the congregants that they have to be committed to coming and they can’t be completely strict with (the number of people) in attendance,” Zimmerman said.

Dewees-Cooper said it’s important to keep the minyan going.

“Because it’s at 6 p.m., we keep it short and sweet, so congregants don’t have to give up a big portion of their evening to come,” Dewees-Cooper said. “As we continue, I think there will be more people. I know the ones who come here regularly seem to appreciate it. Every time we’re here, we’re doing a mitzvah.”

Mark Cooper said it’s very special to be a part of the group on weekday evenings.

“We are remembering a loved one or family member that’s deceased,” he said. “That has a very deep meaning for someone like me.”

Pell, who grew up in the only Jewish family in Jacksonville (Texas, not Florida), is a young professional who works in the Fort Worth ISD. The minyan struck a personal chord for him.

“I lost my dad at a relatively young age,” Pell said. “I was 24 and he was 56. It was a pretty defining moment in my life. (I experienced the) mourning process, grief and healing. It is a mitzvah to be here for them. Even if we’re not going to sit there and have a counseling session, it is a place for them to go where we can sit (and pray) together.” 

Before the minyan, the congregants who participate knew of each other, but they’ve since grown as a support network.

“I feel closer to everyone in the group,” Pell said. “Through minyan, we’ve really gotten to know each other.”

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