Beth israel Synagogue history
At a time when many Jewish congregations in small towns across the South are disappearing, Beth Israel Congregation remains a viable institution.
Documentation tells of a Jewish presence in this area before the 17th century. The first Jews to settle here were Sephardic. Peter Lavien, half-brother of Alexander Hamilton and a Jewish merchant, lived in Beaufort prior to the American Revolution.
Meyer Jacobs, a community leader, also lived in Beaufort. A Major in the Beaufort Artillery, he welcomed the Marquis de Lafayette to Beaufort in 1825. In 1831, Jacobs was elected mayor. In 1833, he represented St. Helena's Parish in the State legislature.
Prior to the War Between the States, Judah P. Benjamin’s mother and sisters lived here. Benjamin was Attorney General, Secretary of War, and then Secretary of State in the Cabinet of Confederate States President, Jefferson Davis.
During the 1870s, Eastern European Jews began to settle here, introducing their ethnic customs as well as the language of Yiddish. Retaining their religious identity, they soon became an integral part of Beaufort.
Before the Synagogue was constructed, Beaufort Jews met at the Masonic Hall above a store on Bay Street. Some ceremonial functions were held in the large hall on the second floor of the Beaufort Arsenal.
Beth Israel Congregation was chartered and incorporated in 1905 and completed in 1908. Rabbi George Solomon of Savannah officiated at the dedication ceremony and installed the Torah Scrolls in the Ark.
In 1910, land was purchased for a cemetery. In 1920, a parsonage for the religious leader was obtained. The Social Hall was added in the 1950s.
Despite our historically small size, Beth Israel’s members have consistently retained a religious leader. While we originated as an Orthodox congregation, we are currently all inclusive, numbering about 75 families. Some of these families live out of town but continue to support the synagogue. All are welcome.
Services are held Friday evenings and Saturday mornings. Currently, there is no religious school Saturday mornings. There are social/religious events throughout the year.
In recent times, members of Beth Israel have served as Mayor, School Board Chair, Member of City Council, and State Legislature Representative.
Today, members of the Congregation work to maintain our religious traditions and Jewish identity and to ensure the continuity of a beloved Beaufort tradition, Beth Israel Congregation.