History or comments

The second oldest Reform congregation in Wisconsin.

Established in 1924, Beth Hillel Temple is the second oldest Reform congregation in Wisconsin. Located on Kenosha’s Library Square, the neo-classic synagogue building has been designated a National Historic Landmark. While the building was originally dedicated in 1927 new stained glass windows designed by Tom Agazzi have been installed.

In 2010 the 25th year of Rabbi Dena Feingold’s tenure was celebrated. She was the first Wisconsin-native woman rabbi and the first woman rabbi to be employed full-time by Wisconsin congregations. At a time when many Jewish congregations in smaller cities are shrinking, Beth Hillel has a stable and growing membership. The congregation is a member of the Union for Reform Judaism. It welcomes all who wish to celebrate Jewish life: families, singles and couples, gay and lesbian Jews, interfaith couples, and Jews by choice.

The letter below was sent by long-time Beth Hillel member Manford (Manny) Bear to Rabbi Dena Feingold. Manny. It is published with his permission. Manny died in July of 2014 at age 99.

February 1, 2000

Dear Dena,

I have just received the February issue of the Beth Hillel Bulletin and noted the plans for the 75th anniversary service on Friday, February 25th. I noted that the plans include participation of past presidents.

I deeply regret that I cannot be present, but since I am the oldest living past president and believe to be the only present member of Beth Hillel who has been associated with the Congregation since its inception, I would like to share some memories and sentiments.

In 1924, at the age of nine, I attended Beth Hillel’s first High Holy Day services. They were held at Grosvenor Hall at the corner of 6th Avenue and 58th St. above what is now the 3 Coins restaurant. The services were conducted by Rabbi Milton Ellis, Beth Hillel’s first full time rabbi.

Rabbi Julius Rappaport became our rabbi in 1925. He was a very kindly man, and although he was elderly, he related very well to his young students and was highly respected.

I remember one very cold November afternoon when we arrived at the Temple above Cohn’s Shoe Store for Hebrew School. Rabbi Rappaport took the entire class to an old vacant house that was located on the site where Beth Hillel now stands and conducted a brief Hebrew School class so it could be proven that the property was used for religious purposes and taken off the tax rolls. The house was torn down shortly thereafter and construction of the temple begun.

I was proud to be a member of the first class to be confirmed in the new Beth Hillel Temple in 1928.

Beth Hillel has played a very important part in my life and in the life of my family. My father was one of the founders of the temple.

Both of my brothers and I were confirmed at Beth Hillel, as were our two daughters.

In 1946 Dee and I were married by Rabbi Stephen Sherman of Beth Hillel. (His yahrzeit is being observed at Beth Hillel on Feb. 25th.)

Both of our daughters were married by Beth Hillel rabbis – Rabbi Goldstein and Rabbi Remson.

The funerals of both of my parents were conducted at Beth Hillel.

The Board Room is dedicated in memory of my mother and father, and the school wing of the Temple is dedicated in memory of my brother, Sherburn, who lost his life at Okinawa in World War II.

As an interesting sidelight – Sherb had been the shofar blower at Beth Hillel for the High Holidays for several years. In 1938, while a student at the University of Wisconsin in Madison he heard that Beth Hillel had no one to blow the shofar for Rosh Hashanah. It was during the Depression and money was tight, so he hitch-hiked from Madison to Kenosha to blow the shofar.

I have had the opportunity to observe the fluctuations in the fortunes of Beth Hillel for the entire span of its existence.

Not too many years ago its fortunes were at a low ebb. Membership had dropped off alarmingly. There appeared to be a lack of motivation, and I wondered if the Temple would wither on the vine, as has been the case with many congregations in smaller towns.

Happily, a wonderful transformation has taken place. More activities are being offered than ever before, and a new spirit and great enthusiasm is evident.

Dena, you have breathed new life into Beth Hillel and set it on a course to prosper for the next 75 years.

Although Dee and I have belonged to Temple Shalom in Naples for the past 21 years and attend services there nine months of the year, in our hearts Beth Hillel will always be our temple.

Dee and I send greetings and best wishes to you and your family and to all the members of Beth Hillel.