Origins of Beth Hillel Congregation
In the mid-1950s, many young Jewish families started moving into the western part of Wilmette, Illinois. In February 1958, 25 families met to discuss establishing a synagogue in the community. They determined by a large majority vote that the affiliation of the synagogue would be Conservative. On April 16, 1958, Beth Hillel was established, with Rabbi Louis H. Lieberworth as the spiritual leader.The Village of Wilmette and its many affiliates were delighted to help us. In fact, the first High Holiday services were held in the Wilmette Women’s Club. In the fall of 1958, our religious school began using space at the Highcrest School. Beth Hillel purchased the land at Big Tree Lane and officially broke ground for the synagogue’s school building in August 1961, formally dedicating it in March 1963. Eight years later, Beth Hillel’s sanctuary building was constructed, and our home was complete. We’ve been blessed by many fine rabbis and cantors over the years. Rabbi Allan David Kensky arrived in Wilmette before the High Holidays of 2002 after spending 11 years with the JTS Rabbinical School in New York City.
Origins of Congregation Bnai EmunahDuring the early 1950s, many Jewish veterans from the west side of Chicago moved north of the city in search of moderately priced housing. Several Jewish families came together and in 1953 formed a charter for a new congregation to be known as Congregation Bnai Emunah of Lincolnwood. After meeting in congregants’ homes for a time, they purchased the property at Niles Center Road and Church Street in Skokie. A day care center and three storefronts co-existed on the property until 1964, when the main sanctuary and classrooms were built.Rabbi Harold Stern was the spiritual leader from 1959-1991. Rabbi Michael Laxmeter was the most recent rabbi from 1993-2004. In its heyday, 950 families were members at Congregation Bnai Emunah, and the Hebrew School taught over 1000 students. The synagogue was a notable Jewish community in many ways: for example, it was the first congregation in the United States to establish a blood bank for its members. In June 2004, the two Conservative synagogues combined to form one new congregation, Beth Hillel Bnai Emunah.