In the summer of 1960, the now world renowned Rabbi Alexander Schindler, the immediate past president of UAHC came from Boston to South Windsor to help a group of residents finalize plans to form Temple Beth Hillel, a new congregation East of the river. We needed a place to worship, and the Reverend Roy Hutcheon, minister of the Wapping Community Church, offered his church to our new congregants. Rabbi Schindler came from Boston to lead some of the Friday evening services. When a rabbi was not available, the congregation led their own service. A congregational choir led by Bernie Karlin provided music. Religious School started immediately, and was held in the public schools on Sunday morning.
On August 25, 1961, we held a service to celebrate our first anniversary and to welcome our first part-time rabbi, Paul L. Shiman, a professor of philosophy and religion at Wesleyan University. Our Congregation started to search for land to build a building. Moses Maskel donated land from his parents’ farm for our building which was dedicated at Friday night services on June 5, 1964. The congregation worked together to complete and furnish the Temple. Roman Luftglas hand carved the Hebrew and English words above the Ark and Memorial Board. The Sisterhood was the social center of the congregation. In 1965, Margo Lazzerini was hired to provide music at services. In 1966, the Brett family provided money to purchase a Torah, which is still used today. Our larger Torah was donated by Temple Beth Israel of West Hartford. The valance for the Ark, which was saved from a synagogue in Germany during World War II, was donated by members Kay and Ed Nabel.
In 1973, after five part-time rabbis, our congregation hired our first full-time rabbi, Neil Kominsky. Our congregation continued to grow. A portable ‘bookmobile’ cart at Sunday School was the way our library started. The temple youth group, SWIFTY, flourished. A Purim Carnival was held every year for the Religious School, and the second night seder was held every Passover, with members of the congregation doing the cooking. In 1982, Rabbi Steven Chatinover became our seventh rabbi. Our congregation increased to a membership of 125 families. We began to outgrow our facility. High Holiday services had to be held outside of our building to serve all of our members and their guests. In 1989, Rabbi Jody Cohen became our eighth rabbi. We reinstated High Holiday services at our Temple by holding two separate services to accommodate all of our members. In 1993, the Men’s club became active. In 1995, Rabbi Jeffrey Glickman became our ninth rabbi, and in the same year, Jerry Krasnow became our Cantor.
In December, 1993, land on the corner of Governors Highway and Baker Lane in South Windsor was donated to our Temple by Paul Capuano for the site of a sorely-needed building. Our congregation had grown to over 220 families. In the year 2000, the new building was finally completed.
In November, 2000, marked by a Torah processional from the old building to the new, the congregation of Temple Beth Hillel moved into its beautiful, spacious new home at 20 Baker Lane. Here we have room to offer Shabbat services, Sunday and weekday religious and Hebrew school programs. For High Holidays and other special events our sanctuary can accommodate over 600 people. We are proud of the fact that our Temple is fully accessible to persons with physical disabilities, including a ramp to our Bimah and an amplification system to accommodate hearing-impaired individuals. Our social hall allows us to host family, congregational and community events, with an added folding partition added in November, 2005 to make the room even more useful. In December, 2001, TBH acquired our third and fourth Sifrei Torahs. Two very old and unique Sephardic scrolls – a Persian Torah encased in an ornate silver covering and a Moroccan Torah inscribed on deerskin. The deerskin Torah has been donated to our sister Temple in Tula, Russa. In September 2001 we proudly observed the first High Holidays in our new home.
As our Temple grows, we continue to maintain our reputation as a warm and caring congregation and we pray that we will celebrate many more years as a strong and vibrant part of the community.