In 1866, a year after the Civil War, “all male persons of full age” were gathered together “in their rooms in the Wotkyns’ Block…for the purpose of incorporating themselves as the religious Society and Congregation of Baris Sholem.” This group had, in the previous decade, organized worship services in their homes and created a burial society. By 1870, land was purchased at the present site on Third and Division Streets in Troy. The cornerstone was laid in June, and the building was completed in time for the High Holy Days in September of that year. It now is New York State’s oldest building in continuous use as a synagogue.
From its inception, the congregation exhibited its liberal tendencies. Men and women were seated together, the choir was mixed, and an organ was played. Reform ritual was adopted around 1890, and in 1920, during its fiftieth anniversary year, the congregation joined the Union of American Hebrew Congregations.
The elaborately carved ark, which resembles a boat, was donated after the building was completed, in memory of a young man who died in a boating accident on the Hudson River. You can see his name and initials among the carving. The ner tamid (eternal light) is unusual in that it is a gas flame, not an electric bulb. The stained glass windows were completed in 1965.
Congregation Berith Sholom seeks to continue to honor its classical Reform heritage even as it grows in the more traditional directions being taken by today’s Reform movement. As a small congregation, its strength and capital are in its congregants and in the connections forged among members of the community. Be’rukhim ha-ba’im: We welcome you!
Berith Sholom ~1900
Recent photo above by Louis Davidson – Synagogues360