IN THE BEGINNING: In September of 1959, several families who were living on the eastern shore of Narragansett Bay felt the need to provide an educational and social meeting place for their fellow Jews. Thirty-five families joined together to become the Eastward Jewish Center. A few years later a group of members from Eastward decided to start a synagogue in Barrington, and in 1963 they founded the Barrington Jewish Center. There were 39 charter member families and 36 children in the religious school.
Two years later, members purchased our first building at 147 County Road. The little white house adjacent to the property of St. John’s Church had just enough space for a small sanctuary and kitchen on the first floor and two classrooms in the basement. The office and rabbi’s study, along with a third classroom, were under the eaves on the second floor.
In 1967, we became guardians of our first Sefer Torah, Holy Scroll #1133, one of the 1,564 scrolls saved from the Nazis in Czechoslovakia and assigned to us by the Westminster Synagogue in London. Initially the congregation was served by student rabbis, but in 1968 the congregation hired our first full time ordained rabbi, Richard Weiss. In 1971 Rabbi Robert Shenkerman became the congregation’s second rabbinical leader.
When Rabbi James Rosenberg became our third full-time spiritual leader in August 1974, no one could have imagined a partnership that would last for thirty-three years.
For several years, a group of members had been suggesting that we choose a Hebrew name for our community. In March of 1975, our name was officially changed to Temple Habonim-Barrington Jewish Center. Habonim is Hebrew for “The Builders,” which seems a most fitting name for our evolving congregation.
THE NEW BUILDING: In 1976, the town of Barrington decided to sell the Civil War era building at 165 New Meadow Road that had first served as a school and then as the School Department’s administration building. The idyllic riverfront setting of the property combined with the striking architectural lines of the structure made this opportunity particularly appealing. After much discussion, we purchased and renovated the building to meet the needs of our growing congregation, moving to our new home in June of 1980; and in September of 1980 we were able to celebrate the High Holy Days in our own building for the first time.
Continued growth and program enrichment carried us through the 80’s and 90’s. From 1980-1988 Rabbi Rosenberg added a teaching position in the religion department at Connecticut College in New London to his congregational responsibilities. He brought his intellectual rigor to our congregation through a number of adult education courses and interfaith programming. At the turn of the millennium our facilities needed to expand again to keep pace with our growing congregation. In September of 2003, we dedicated our enlarged building. Our expanded structure now included modern classrooms and an enlarged sanctuary and social hall. Our membership numbered almost two hundred families and religious school enrollment was at 185 students.
Rabbi James Rosenberg
PAID IN FULL
BURNING THE RENOVATION MORTGAGE PAPERS
OUR NEW RABBI: In the spring of 2005, Rabbi Rosenberg told the Board of Trustees of his decision to retire in June of 2007. He urged the congregation to find an educator who would work with him for a year as principal of the school while the search for his successor began. Linda Silverman Levine, who had been at Temple Solel in San Diego joined Temple Habonim as principal of the religious school in September of 2006. At the same time, the Search Committee began to work in earnest to interview rabbinic candidates. The leadership of Habonim was thrilled when Rabbi Andrew F. Klein, who had been the Associate Rabbi of Hevreh of Southern Berkshire, accepted our offer to become rabbi of Temple Habonim. In July of 2007, a new era began in the life of Temple Habonim, even as Rabbi Klein made sure that there would be some measure of continuity; Dr. Daniel Marwil, a developmental pediatrician, who began as our High Holy Day cantor in 1980, agreed to continue in this role. In addition, our new rabbi asked Marjorie Blowers, who first came to Temple Habonim when Rabbi Schenkerman was our rabbi, to stay on as his administrative assistant. Margie, as she was known by all, was much loved in the life of our congregation. Her bright blue eyes and warm smile radiated welcome. When serious illness forced her to retire in August, 2010, hundreds of people came to a service and oneg in her honor.
Rabbi Klein brought his own warmth and wisdom to Habonim; it quickly became apparent that our congregation would be in exceptionally capable hands. In the fall of 2007, Max Chaiken, a Brown student who went on to become an ordained Reform rabbi, served as our first song leader. In July of 2013, we were truly blessed to have Jodi Sullivan become our Temple Administrator.
Rabbi Klein brought many innovations to Habonim. In the fall of 2007, the temple began weekly e-blasts, a major administrative improvement. In March, 2008, our Confirmation class, led by our rabbi, went to Washington, D.C. to participate in the Reform movement’s social action program for Jewish teenagers; this journey to our nation’s capital has become an annual event. Our weekly Thursday lunch-and-learn sessions began in the fall of 2008. In March, 2011, Rabbi Klein led an interfaith trip to Israel with members of both Temple Habonim and the Barrington Congregational Church-United Church of Christ. In June of 2012, we held our first LGBTQ Pride Shabbat; and in the fall of that year, we reopened our art gallery. In the years that followed, Rabbi Klein initiated an overseas congregational trip to Eastern Europe and a second trip to Israel. In the fall of 2012, a joyous Habonim celebrated the fifth anniversary of Rabbi Klein’s tenure at the Temple.
When Linda Silverman Levine left Rhode Island to return to California with her husband, we sought a new principal who could also serve as our song leader. It seemed that finding someone who could fill both roles well would be a tall order, but when David Perolman moved to Barrington in the summer of 2015 with his young family, he soon demonstrated that he would fill those dual roles splendidly.
OUR JOURNEY CONTINUES: In January, 2019, shortly after returning from leading a congregational trip to Israel, Rabbi Klein announced his plans to retire in June of 2020. The synagogue’s board quickly appointed a Search Committee co-chaired by two former presidents, Nicole Jellinek and Alan Buff; since then, the Search Committee has offered the congregation many opportunities to reflect upon our future needs. Thanks to strong leadership, both lay and rabbinical, we have grown from humble roots in borrowed facilities to a vibrant and thriving congregation; we look forward to seeing the next chapter of our history unfold.