Beth Israel Founding Stone
Documented Jewish presence in Kingston dates from the middle of the 19th century. Among the earliest arrivals were the brothers Joseph and Abraham Nordheimer who later moved to Toronto. They remain known among pianists and musicians for promoting music and producing the high quality Nordheimer pianos.
Simon Oberndorffer came to Kingston, via New York, in 1857. He started a cigar factory and became one of the main founders of the Orthodox Beth Israel Congregation in 1908. Beth Israel has occupied the building at 116 Centre Street since 1910.
Until 1960, the vast majority of the congregants were merchants or businessmen from Central and Eastern Europe.
During the 1960's, however, the expansion of Canadian universities attracted numerous Jewish academics to Queen's University at Kingston. Within a short fifteen years, Beth Israel's composition changed to a bimodal membership: the old-timers/merchants and the newcomers/academics-professionals.
In 1975, the strain of accommodating to such a rapid and drastic change brought about the split of the membership into the Orthodox Beth Israel Congregation and Iyr-Ha-Melech, the Reform Congregation.
100th Anniversary Commemorative Quilt
In 2012, the members of Beth Israel voted overwhelmingly to become a Conservative Congregation and began the process of change of ritual and principles.
Today, Beth Israel remains an umbrella synagogue which welcomes and accommodates members whose orientations range from Agnostic to Orthodox.
Beth Israel prides itself in being a welcoming Conservative congregation in which members of all ages, nationalities and lifestyles enjoy meaningful events and are encouraged to participate in the true spirit of Jewish community experience and worship. We are a very caring and compassionate community, whose members can be counted on to step forward and help each other with yarzheit and shiva minyans or in other times of need. After many years as a Modern Orthodox congregation, in 2012 Beth Israel voted overwhelmingly to change to Conservative ritual and is currently in the process of change doing so in an enthusiastic, thoughtful and caring way.
Beth Israel members come from many countries of origin and bring diverse business, professional, and academic backgrounds. We enjoy stimulating adult education events, a dynamic Talmud Torah School, fun Jewish community events, activities for university students (in collaboration with Hillel House, adjacent to the Synagogue) and regular Friday evening and Saturday services. Most significantly, Beth Israel gives individuals, couples and families the opportunity to share life cycle events and to feel part of a vibrant and caring Kingston Jewish community.
The Beth Israel Congregation is committed to meeting the religious, educational, social and cultural needs of our members in a warm, welcoming, and supportive atmosphere. Beth Israel is a house of worship and also a meeting place for the wider Jewish community in Southeast Ontario. In the spirit of Klal Yisrael, the Congregation also strives to support a healthy and secure State of Israel.