To understand where we are going, it is important to understand where we've been. Organized Judaism began in Meridian as a combined effort with Jews from nearby Marion. Congregation Beth Israel was founded in 1868 to serve the religious needs of a growing Jewish population in Meridian and its surrounding areas. Beginning as a modest group of ten families, the congregation rapidly grew to fifty members by the year 1878. At that time, the members decided they needed a dedicated house of worship and built a brick synagogue on 22nd avenue, in the heart of Meridian.
In 1906, the congregation, built a new synagogue on the corner of 11th Street and 24th Avenue. Designed by architect P.J. Krause, this new temple was modeled after the Temple of Athena Nike, one of the major temples of the Acropolis. Leading into the temple were fourteen marble steps, and the entrance was supported by a series of large ionic columns. The synagogue interior, which could seat 500, also mimicked the octagonal shape of early Grecian architecture, and was marked by its graceful simplicity. Interior ornamentation was limited largely to stained glass windows displaying the Ten Commandments, a menorah, the Shield of David, and the Ark of Noah. The new building suffered a fire in its first year. While it was being repaired, Beth Israel held services at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, a favor which they were able return later when St. Paul’s was renovating its own building.
In 1924 Rabbi William Ackerman led Congregation Beth Israel. Ackerman was extremely involved in civic and interfaith activities in Meridian. In 1926, he was named the city's "Most Worthful Citizen" by the Kiwanis Club. When Rabbi Ackerman passed away suddenly in 1950, the congregation asked his wife, Paula, to fill in as the pulpit leader. Paula led Beth Israel for three years, becoming the first recognized female spiritual leader of any Jewish Community. This predated the first female ordained Rabbi by twenty years.
At its peak, Congregation Beth Israel had as many as 49 children in its religious school. In the year 1927 there were 575 Jews in Meridian, although certainly not all were affiliated with the congregation.
In 1895, some new immigrants to the community preferred Orthodox worship, in contrast to the Reform position of Congregation Beth Israel. They formed their own Orthodox congregation, Ohel Jacob. The two congregations co-existed peacefully without conflict or competition, and many members actually belonged to both. Ohel Jacob’s membership declined through the 1970’s and 1980’s and in its latter years the congregants worshiped regularly with the members of Beth Israel and held Orthodox services only on the High Holy Days. Eventually, in 1990, the decision was made to disband Ohel Jacob and the members merged into Congregation Beth Israel.
In 1964, Congregation Beth Israel acquired its current piece of land in the Broadmoor subdivision. The Congregation Beth Israel facility houses a 200-seat sanctuary, a social hall and kitchen, a library and a Holocaust Memorial. An active Sisterhood further helps ensure Congregation Beth Israel is ingrained in the Meridian community. Since 2005, Rabbi David Goldstein, who is Rabbi Emeritus of Touro Synagogue in New Orleans, has been the Rabbi of Congregation Beth Israel.
Today, Congregation Beth Israel consists of approximately 30 family units. It is the purpose of oue relocation effort to add to that number.