BJC has a New Home
by Cate Murway
Synagogue buildings are physical witness to the Jewish presence. Sadly, population changes and economic realities sometimes mean that the future of synagogues, particularly in small communities, is increasingly in doubt. It is important out of respect for its history and for the sake of future generations, whose heritage it will become, to keep a cherished record of its existence. The dedicated cooperation of synagogue bodies, boards of management and individual congregants is most crucial in carrying out this task.
One of the greatest things the Jewish people have given the world is a house of study, a house of prayer and a house for the community. These places of worship have always been the very heart, the center of a community’s religious life. The Bristol Jewish Center, Congregation of Avath Achim‘s small, intimate, friendly Adult community was rich in tradition.
After World War II, the BJC congregation had grown. There was a Hebrew School, striving to create a rich, vibrant learning environment in which to nourish their children's [per Bristol Jewish Center history, mostly boys] growing Jewish identities and discover the beauty of their heritage. They also boasted a large Sisterhood that offered opportunities for social activities, educational experiences, fundraising, and personal growth. In the 1950’s, local businesses were booming and during the High Holy Days, the 100-person sanctuary was filled. In the last few decades, the congregation struggled to gather the 10 men [or woman] required for minyan for prayers.
The Bristol Jewish Center was a spiritual and caring community that helped its members find larger purpose in everyday experience, advocating Judaism's core values.
Despite a century of history, artifacts and the emotional connection, this spiritual place closed and difficult choices began, such as the sale of the building.
Executive Director Bob White of the Bucks County Redevelopment Authority purchased the BJC building and spent significant monies to renovate, paint and fix the structure to suit their needs.
Over 100 years of congregational record books, minute books, books that went back as far as 1890, and prayer books from Louis Dries’ personal library all needed to be archived. Louis and his wife Eva, proprietors of the Dries furniture store, along with their sons, Samuel and Harry, were very active in the BJC community. Some of the donated books were printed in Poland in Hebrew [language of their Fathers] or Yiddish versions, more colloquial with no vowels, and they all went to the Jewish Archives in the Temple University Samuel L. Paley Library, along with title deeds/leases, correspondence files, etc.
William S. Paley [1901 –1990], the chief executive who built the Columbia Broadcasting System [CBS] from a small radio network into one of the foremost radio and television network operations in the USA was the son of Goldie [Drell] and Samuel L. Paley. He personally dedicated the Paley Library at Temple University named in honor of his father, an immigrant from Ukraine who ran a cigar company.
Paley Library Administrator, Margery N. Sly, the Director of Special Collections Research Center, took a large amount of the documents dating back to the founding of BJC. These included among other things, a minute book of meetings from the early 20th century, written in cursive Yiddish, in INK.
The Philadelphia Jewish Archives Collection contains diaries, photos, and other papers, and the records of many regional Jewish organizations.
President Randi Davis and her staff and Executive Director Robert Fry at Congregation Kol Emet, a Reconstructionist synagogue, invested a great deal of time and effort to complete the transfer of some of the BJC artifacts to the KE social room.
The "Katz Memorial", in honor of podiatrist, Rabbi Dr. Samuel Katz [wife, Rebecca] hangs above the steps in the lobby. The cherished Outdoor Chanukah Menorah found its new home at Kol Emet as well. The Menorah was crafted and donated to the Bristol Jewish Center and the Borough by Bristol resident, David Charles [Dave] Follin, in commemoration of his many friends, such as Charlie and Elsie Richman and the Pollock Family. Welder, Michael Cunningham designed it, based on Dave’s pictorial ideas, with a high-grade finish with excellent atmospheric weathering characteristics. Electrical contractor, Larry Bailey of George P. Bailey & Sons, Inc. on Bath Road ensured that the flames of the BJC Chanukah menorah, standing as the first beacon against the forces of religious bigotry and persecution, would always inspire those who cherish freedom of the spirit in this land of precious liberty.
Dedication for the BJC History and Culture Repository at the Abrams Hebrew Academy in Yardley was held on Sunday, October 9th, along with the Yiskor for the BJC Founders, a special memorial prayer for the departed, following the Torah reading on the last day of Passover.
Congressman Michael G. "Mike" Fitzpatrick attended the dedication along with many honored guests.
Alan confirmed, “The best way to honor BJC is to contribute to Abrams Hebrew Academy so the Jewish youth of the future thrives in order to encourage them to maintain a Jewish way of life. The whole front of the synagogue was brought over along with the Ark of the Covenant. The real miracle is that it was taken apart and made to fit by contractor Richard Volponi.”
Director/ Rabbi Ira Budow graciously offered a room at Abrams Hebrew Academy and Rich recreated the BJC sanctuary on a smaller scale. The Aron Kodesh, the ornamental closet which contains the Torah scrolls ['Scrolls of the Law'] the 5 books of Moses’ Old Testament, the Eternal Light, the Bema and all the special chairs are located in this new home, along with the bookcase and memorial plaques donated by Dr. William and Lorraine [Hopkins] Gordfarb. “These people were very active. We had to save the plaques and memorials for the people who did so much,” commented Alan.
This room has been appropriately named “Abrams Bristol Jewish Center” by Rabbi Budow. The Abrams students use the Abrams BJC for the “Boys Minyan”, thus the legacy of the Bristol Jewish Center lives on through these students.
Treasurer, Alan J., RPh, FASCP and his devoted wife, Audrey Vogenberg can NEVER be adequately thanked, but they will never be forgotten.
Their dedication and passionate hard work, all generously bestowed with dignity, has always been amazing. They both made sure without fail that the BJC was functioning and they happily included all!
Alan and Audrey had beseeched the rabbis and lay leadership to invest in the holy BJC building and to set aside time and resources to address the aging infrastructure because the Vogenbergs truly understood that maintenance of that special sacred space was critically important and worthy of everyone's investment.
The warmth and the true respite that the BJC provided will never be consigned to oblivion.
“What I have been able to accomplish required assistance from President Jeannie Harris-Phillips and the memories of Congregants who have gone before us. Herman Silber, a chemist at Rohm & Haas, the giant who was behind the construction of the BJC building, completing the building in just 2 years; Dr. Jules and Ann Sobel, Charles and Elsie Richman [Richman’s Window Treatments], Joseph and Elizabeth Wagman, Bernard “Bernie” and Esther Ballow, Rabbi Dr. Samuel and Rebecca Katz, Martin “Marty” Hopkins [President of the Bristol Lions Club], Leon and Freda Plavin [Auto Boys owners], and Louis “Pee Wee” Harris, were not only friends, but generous benefactors to the Bristol Jewish Center."
The President for the last decades, Jeannie Harris-Phillips, who reflects the warmth and commitment of the congregation, is the daughter of the founder of Harris Comfort on Otter Street. Her Aunt Selma J. Harris was one of the original members of the congregation and she served on the Board of Directors. “Louie” Dries was considered the leader of the Jewish community “no official title but because of his prestige and involvement in the community”. He was one of the original founders of the Bristol Jewish Center and served as its president and was a deacon. He was also named Citizen of the Year by the Bristol Lions Club in 1954.
“When I think of what these men, along with their wives accomplished during one of the busiest eras on Mill Street, I am astounded! In addition, I think of non-Jewish friends who participated in BJC services because they felt the warmth and spiritual atmosphere that our Congregation and our Student Rabbis brought to the Synagogue”, Treasurer Alan J. Vogenberg shared.
The BJC had a lofty mission: to perpetuate the Jewish journey of engagement with God and the Torah into the next chapter of the story of generations. It was the meeting ground where people come to experience a taste of the infinite and a touch of the Divine with an engaging community.
The BJC has funded a perpetual minimum college ‘Bristol Jewish Center Scholarship’ of $1000/year for a graduating Bristol High School senior. An additional perpetual scholarship/grant of $500/year is also BJC funded for St. Mark Elementary School in Bristol for tuition, books, supplies, etc., also to be named the Bristol Jewish Center Scholarship/grant.
Memories and mitzvah outlast place.
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