By George Hauer
Shalom New Haven Contributor
In the early 1950’s, using a Torah borrowed from Congregation B’nai Jacob in Woodbridge, about 35 Jewish families purchased a small building in Branford to form the East Shore Jewish Center. Slowly, there was an influx of Jewish families to the shoreline, prompting a need for larger facilities. After the building was sold, High Holiday services were temporarily held at various homes, schools and churches.
In 1973, there were over 60 families involved. By 1975, with 100 Jewish families living on the shoreline and the need for a permanent home more pressing, a 4.5 acre tract of land on Rt. 79 in Madison was purchased. On September 2, 1976, ground was broken for the building of Temple Beth Tikvah. The design, modeled after a tent from the Biblical days of Israel, included angled sides and flat roof. On May 15th, 1977, Temple Beth Tikvah was dedicated, with a membership of over 125 families. Today, over 300 families call TBT their house of worship.
Rabbi Stacy Offner, Temple Beth Tikvah’s rabbi since in 2012, commented on TBT’s recent 40th anniversary: “Celebrating our 40th anniversary was truly exhilarating.
The Talmud says that 40 is the age for understanding, and I think that for us it was the exact right time to look backward and to look forward. Our vision for the future is clear: to be a vibrant, inclusive, Reform congregation with an emphasis on all that connects us. We are connected through Torah, through Tikun HaNefesh (nurturing the soul) and Tikun Olam (repairing the world).” When asked to describe what makes TBT special, Rabbi Offner commented on their emphasis of Shabbat (held in the sanctuary every Friday evening) and growing Jewishly as individuals and as a congregation. “Ours is a congregation that puts Shabbat at the center. While our membership numbers are robust, I am far more excited by how our Shabbat participation has grown. Our members experience a sense of holiness and opportunities to learn and explore Jewishly, whether in a classroom or in the kitchen or on the playground.” TBT congregants also have the opportunity to attend Torah Study, held in the library Saturday mornings at 9 AM.
“We are blessed with a fantastic Cantor (Kevin Margolius), who leads us in music and directs our Religious School”, Offner adds. We have a Shabbat Band that bursts with joyous sound. We have Torah Study that all are welcome to, every Shabbat morning. Our school boasts over 100 students and our Nursery School is busy 5 days a week. This coming February, we have a TBT group traveling to Israel. This will be the third such trip to Israel in five years. The trips are a way to connect deeply to Israel and to each other.”
“We have a history of sponsoring refugee families and just last year we welcomed a Syrian family to Connecticut with the guidance of IRIS (Integrated Refugee and Immigrant Services) and we are planning to welcome another family just as soon as we can. We work in partnership with our friends at 1st Church Guilford and we will soon be widening our scope to include St. Andrews Episcopal Church in Madison as well. As we do Tikun Olam, we are practicing interfaith relations, and making friendships with people of all faiths and cultures.”
“We are blessed by our founders who, in 1977, turned a beautiful piece of land into a synagogue. We are praying, learning, celebrating and growing Jewishly every single day.”