The group was small, but the excitement was tangible that late summer day. It was September 19, 1907, and the eleven men who met at 16 Water Street in Concord were about to mark the beginning of a journey that would last through generations. “Base of Jacob” was the name given to the newly incorporated group. Its declared purpose was to “promote religion, morality and charity; and the establishment and maintenance of public worship of God, in accordance with the principles and doctrines of the Hebrew Synagogues of the United States of America.”
At first they met in members’ homes. As the size of the group grew, the location moved; first, to a home on Clinton Street, then to a dwelling at 66 Downing Street. In February of 1917, ten years after that day in September, Base of Jacob became Temple Beth Jacob.
Over the next twenty years, the membership of Temple Beth Jacob continued to expand, outgrowing the Downing Street location. An abandoned Episcopal Church on Broadway looked promising…it had a first floor, four walls and a few seats. In October of 1937, a bank note was secured to make the purchase possible and to cover the improvements needed for the building to be used as a synagogue.
Meeting for the first time in the new location at 67 Broadway, the Temple was dedicated to “perpetuating the cause of Judaism, and cherishing and promoting the fundamental principle, the belief in and worship of one God.” A part-time teacher was engaged and student rabbis conducted High Holy Day services. On March 21, 1942, five years after the purchase of the building, a mortgage burning took place.
During the late 30’s and early 40’s services were conducted in the Orthodox tradition. In 1946 Temple Beth Jacob became affiliated with the Reform movement. Rabbi Aaron B. Ilson, who was raised in the Orthodox tradition but was ordained as a Reform rabbi, provided the transition from Orthodox to Reform.
Through the years, Temple Beth Jacob was growing and needed additional space in which to conduct its many religious, educational and social activities. To accommodate the growing needs, an addition was built to house a rabbi’s study and two classrooms on the first floor. A large room to serve as a kindergarten classroom and religious school assembly area was also added in the newly finished basement.
During this period the “parsonage” for the Rabbi and his family was located at 4 Jordan Avenue. In the mid-sixties a new, larger residence was purchased on South Street. A few years later, the home next to the Temple became available and it has since been the home of all successive rabbis and their families.
In the late 60’s, Temple Beth Jacob joined with Temple B’nai Israel in Laconia to offer combined Religious School studies and shared pulpits. This offered both small congregations the benefit of larger numbers. But the distance proved to be too great an inconvenience, and this arrangement did not continue beyond the trial period.
By 1989 the TBJ family had grown sufficiently to require yet another addition to the building. At this point seven new classrooms were added and the kitchen was moved from the basement level to the first floor. The sanctuary was turned around and fitted with a new bima and ark. The fixed pews were removed and replaced with upholstered chairs that allowed flexibility for the new open space to be used as an enlarged sanctuary and/or a social hall. This configuration remains today.
The dedication of the newly expanded building was a weekend-long celebration from October 13-15, 1989! The congregation gathered at Rollins Park and marched down Broadway to the Temple with the Torah scrolls held high. The scrolls were then placed into the new ark in the brand new sanctuary.
In the years since, the congregation has continued to grow in size, in its scope of activities, in its dedication to Jewish ideas and ideals, and in diversity. Throughout the 100 years of existence a series of dedicated rabbis and congregational leaders has enabled Temple Beth Jacob to go from those initial eleven men to nearly 200 member units, from near-isolation as Jews in the Concord area to becoming an integral part of the larger Jewish community of New Hampshire and beyond.
Thus it was with great joy that the scrolls were again held high and marched from Rollins Park down Broadway to the sanctuary on September 16, 2007, celebrating a century of the community that calls itself Temple Beth Jacob.