Our History

Beth El Congregation began in 1859 when four Jewish families settled in Rockingham County.

Eight years later, regularly scheduled religious services began in a rented room. Our first Torah (which is still in use!) was purchased in 1870. Land for the Jewish cemetery was acquired in 1876, and the following year Hebrew Friendship Congregation was chartered. On July 4, 1891, the cornerstone was laid for the first synagogue in the area.

The synagogue in downtown Harrisonburg was our home for more than 70 years, until 1964, when the cornerstone was laid for our present Temple.  The name of the Congregation was changed from Hebrew Friendship to Beth El, House of God.

Our Mission

The purpose of this reform congregation shall be to worship God in accordance with the faith of Judaism; to cultivate a love and understanding of the Jewish heritage; to strengthen the ties within the Jewish community; to strengthen the bonds of loyalty with the Jewish people everywhere; to bring nearer the Dominion of God on earth through an emphasis on the principles of righteousness and harmony in society at large, and to engage in social action projects in pursuit of social justice and Tikkun Olam (repair of both the human and nonhuman components of the world).



Upcoming Events!

Beth El Bazaar & Open-House
Saturday June 5. 12-4. All are invited!

Beth El Library
There is a new page on the Temple's website for the Beth El Library. It includes a recently completed catalog for the library, as well as a list of ~225 books to be given away. Please take a look! 

The URJ has awarded Beth El Congregation "Exemplar Congregation" status for a disability-friendly building and processes (dietary considerations at onegs, disability outreach, and the like). The Board put considerable thought and effort into the application after we had been recommended for the award by Rabbi Lynne Landsburg.

Social Action:
1. Consider a donation to the Suitcase Clinic. The Sisterhood will be collecting items for patients and their families for this vital  organization. Winter hats & gloves for children and adults, diapers, and feminine products are in particularly short supply. There is a bin in the temple foyer. You may also make a monetary donation thru Beth El.

Recent Events

Sisterhood Donation to First Step Women's Shelter.  Twelve baskets of necessity were donated to the Shelter in celebration of Mother's Day, 

Religious School Hanukkah Celebration!

100+ people attended the Beth El Community Awareness Shabbat (November 6, 2015). Special thanks to Sandy Rose for a wonderful Oneg and Rabbi Joe for leading such a successful and popular outreach event.

Kulanu Speaker: Modreck Maeresera.
Zimbabwe's Lemba Jewish Community.

Sunday November 1st. 3pm. 

Modreck Maeresera is a leader of the Lemba Jewish community of Zimbabwe in southern Africa.  Thousands of years ago Jews from Israel migrated to southern Africa to become the Lemba ethnic group, who have a genetic link to Middle Eastern Jews and who have continued to observe many familiar Jewish customs and laws passed down through generations of oral tradition. 

Community Awareness Shabbat Service
Friday, November 6, 2015. 7:30pm
If you are interested in learning about Harrisonburg's Jewish community and wish to celebrate the arrival of the Sabbath with us, please join us for a Rabbi-led Shabbat service. All visitors from the Community are warmly invited. 

Letter to the Congregation from Rabbi Sue.

Community appreciation dinner for our amazing Religious School faculty. 

Men's Club members Andy Kohen Alan Neckowitz presenting a donation of Jewish-themed books to the library at Skyline Middle School in Harrisonburg. The library intends to use the new books as teaching materials, with small groups of students working together on the same books.

Sunday School cookie decorating and Hanukkah celebration!

First-Annual Sisterhood Chili Cook-Off Fundraiser
Sunday, Dec. 7, 1pm

We will stream the Redskin Game, play games, and eat and judge the chili!  Also hotdogs, corn bread, and dessert. byob.

Men's Club preparing Corned Beef sandwiches for the recent Fundraiser

Beth El President Ron Ornstein discussing the Rosh Hashanah holiday on the local news.

June 22, 2014.
Beth El conducted our first (that anyone can remember) Genizah - the ritual (and actual) burial of religious articles and books that are no longer in good condition or of any further use. 

Memorial Day at the Cemetery
Remembering our Veterans.

Women of Reform Judaism.
Our own Bekah Robles honored  as youngest member during a beautiful Havdalah Service at the Mid-Atlantic convention in Richmond.

Pesach Community Seder
Monday, April 14. 6pm

Film Screening + Producer Q+A
Misa's Fugue.  March 30, 3pm

The free screening will be followed by a Q & A with the film’s producer, Robert E. Lee High School History Teacher, Jennifer Goss. This event is a joint venture between Congregation Beth El of Harrisonburg VA, the Shenandoah Valley Holocaust EducationProject, and the Foundation for Holocaust Education Projects. For more information, please contact Rabbi Joe Blair at rabbijoeb@gmail.com or call him at 540-434-2744. The Foundation can be contacted at 817-781-9229 or holocausteducationprojects@gmail.com.

Men's Club Donation of Judaica Books to Montevideo Middle School
February 2014

Religious School Teacher Appreciation Dinner
Fri. Feb. 21

Tu B'Shevat Seder!
15 January 2014

Kulanu Speaker: Soshannah Nambi
October 6, 2013

Shoshannah Nambi is a member of the 1,000-person Abayudaya Jewish community in Uganda, established in 1919. Shoshannah is a graduate of the Abayudaya-founded Semei Kakungulu High School and the mother of a four-year-old in the Abayudaya pre-school program. With multiple roles in the community, Shoshannah will share personal experiences and down-to-earth knowledge of women's education, health, religion, and family lives. Warm and articulate, Shoshannah will be the first Jewish woman to represent her community on the annual Kulanu-organized tour. A product of the high school that Kulanu helped to create, Shoshannah is among the first Abayudaya women to graduate from university. 

Shoshannah has worked with RAIN-UGANDA. Without regard to religion, RAIN conducts HIV testing and cervical and breast cancer screening, crucial services for hundreds of rural women who previously went undiagnosed. Shoshannah works both as an HIV counselor and as RAIN's accountant. Until recently, she also worked as an administrator at the Tobin Health Center in the nearby city of Mbale, an important resource for the treatment of malaria and other diseases of children and adults among the Abayudaya and their Christian and Muslim neighbors.

This event is co-sponsored by JMU Hillel and Trinity Presbyterian Church. 


Sukkot service/celebration

Sunday Sept. 22.  Together with the children + teachers of Religious school, we decorated the Sukkah and enjoyed "pizza in the hut"

Haitian holding Beth El Prayerbook
Thank you Dr. Eric Kramer, medical volunteer!


Interfaith Peace Camp visits Beth El
June 2013

2013 Congregational Picnic

Meet the Author: Robert Gillette
The Virginia Plan: William B. Thalmer and A Rescue from Nazi Germany.  Sunday April 14, 2013