CONGREGATION BETH SHALOM HISTORY
Arlington lies geographically mid-way between Dallas and Fort Worth. The city boasts a population exceeding 360,000, a large campus of the state University system, major manufacturing and distribution facilities of many Fortune 500 companies, a major league baseball stadium, an almost complete major league football stadium, and a large entertainment district. Until very recently, Arlington has been considered a bedroom community for Dallas and Fort Worth.
Prior to 1980, the Arlington Jewish community held religious services in people’s homes or had to travel either to Dallas or Fort Worth for services and other religious activities. During that year, 8 families gathered together and organized Congregation Beth Shalom feeling deeply that Arlington and its nearby mid-cities communities needed its own synagogue. Initially, services were held every other Friday night in various church facilities, a pool hall, and a storefront jewelry store. A religious school was initiated in 1981, staffed entirely by volunteers.
As for rabbinical services, throughout its history the congregation was blessed by inspiring lay leaders from all Jewish backgrounds, from yeshiva trained to classical Reform. Services were designed to be acceptable to most congregants, regardless of their previous affiliation. A variety of arrangements were structured with several different rabbis. The first Bar Mitzvah and first wedding were celebrated in 1983.
By late 1983, the membership had grown to about 80 families, with Friday night services held weekly, attracting about 100 worshipers at each service. Approximately 80 children attended Sunday religious school, led by a professional who coordinated the efforts of about 20 volunteer teachers. The congregation clearly had outgrown its storefront facilities, and was blessed by the donation of a tract of land in North Arlington for the construction of a permanent synagogue building. A fund-raising campaign was successfully completed, and ground was broken for the new building on September 29, 1985, with completion in the spring of 1986.
Our first full-time rabbi was hired close on the heels of the construction of the new building. With the hiring of Rabbi Keith Stern came our affiliation with the Reform movement. Membership grew exponentially, characterized as it was from the beginning by an energized diversity. Demographically the congregation ranged from those raised Orthodox to those raised classically Reform, from those with large families to single parents, from longtime married, to newlyweds, to Jews married to non Jewish partners, and to many Jews by Choice. The large population of children and young people reflected the youthful average age in the congregation.
Under Rabbi Stern’s leadership and his capability of continuing to meet the needs of the diverse population, the membership expanded rapidly. Many educational as well as social programs were added. This burgeoning growth led in the 1990’s to the acquisition of additional land, and yet another building campaign. A new sanctuary and a 13,000 square foot education building were competed in 1996, reflecting the growth of Congregation Beth Shalom to more than 275 families, with about 250 children enrolled in its rich variety of educational opportunities.
In 1997, Rabbi Keith Stern accepted a position as chief Rabbi in a Boston area synagogue. After an exhaustive search, Rabbi Jeffrey Kaye was selected to be our new Rabbi. Under Rabbi Kaye’s leadership, the congregation continued its active religious school, and initiated and added many community programs including a congregational trip to Israel. Rabbi Kaye left our congregation to become a hospital chaplain in Denver.
With the establishment in 1999 of a new congregation 20 miles north of Arlington, there were demographic changes in our congregation. We then had approximately 235 member families and 165 children enrolled in our religious school.
Following Rabbi Kaye’s departure in 1999, we hired Rabbi Heidi Coretz as our interim part-time rabbi. She officiated at life-cycle events and frequent Shabbat services. At other services, our congregants ably led Shabbat evening and morning Torah study and worship services.
In July of 2001, we hired Rabbi Ned Soltz as our full time rabbi. During the tenure of Rabbi Soltz, the sanctuary was completed to provide a more spiritual feeling, the social hall kitchen was totally renovated, the administration offices and the Rabbi’s office and study were moved to the religious school building, and ARFTY, the synagogue youth group moved into the “Dawg House” in front of the religious school providing them with their own youth house. ARFTY also received the prestigious Irving J. Fain Social Action award from the Religious Action Center in Washington, DC, for its “Camp Impact” – a one week day camp for the homeless and underprivileged youth of the area.
Rabbi Soltz retired in June 2009 as Rabbi Emeritus.
We still remain a very diverse congregation. Close to a half of our congregants were not born Jewish. Many of our families are intermarried raising their children to be Jewish. Although the average age of the congregation has risen, there are still many students enrolled in our religious school. Our B’nai Mitzvah lead Friday evening and Shabbat morning services. We have an active Sisterhood, a profitable gift shop, an outstanding youth group, a senior citizen group that meets monthly, an active adult education program, a Brotherhood and a well- structured Board of Trustees. We hold Friday evening and Shabbat morning services all year, Rosh Chodesh services, and all other holiday and festival services. We also have programming for children’s services, and interfaith seminars.