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Utah’s oldest continuously operational synagogue reaches 100-year milestone

By Adam Rubin - | Sep 19, 2021

Adam Rubin, Special to the Standard-Examiner

Community Members gather around the Congregation Brith Sholem Synagogue in Ogden on Thursday, Sept. 9, 2021, during a walking tour celebrating the 100-year anniversary of the congregation.

OGDEN — Community members and congregants last week celebrated the 100-year anniversary of Congregation Brith Sholem, Utah’s oldest continuously operational synagogue, during Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year.

The building, located at 2750 Grant Ave., was established as a sanctuary for worship in 1921 and has been recognized by the National Register of Historic Places since 1985.

The golden milestone was marked by a series of interior and exterior upgrades completed throughout the summer. Herb Pressman, a member of the congregation, first suggested refurbishing the building in commemoration of the 100-year milestone back in the fall of 2019.

Janice Ward, who sits on the synagogue’s board of trustees, expressed her gratitude in being involved with the recent centennial celebrations.

“A lot of small synagogues in the country have had to close up,” Ward said. “They have either had to merge with bigger congregations or just fold, because the realities of running a small synagogue are difficult.”

Congregation Brith Sholem relies on donations from people who have been impacted by the synagogue, as well as membership dues and volunteer work to cover expenses.

Refurbishments included landscaping work and repainting the exterior’s facade; however, most of the updates were done inside of the synagogue. The building was fitted with contemporary carpeting, interior walls were repainted, and new covers were fashioned for the lectern and Torah mantle.

Adam Rubin, Special to the Standard-Examiner

Judi Amsel shows community members the new Torah mantle covers and lectern covers inside the Congregation Brith Sholem Synagogue on Thursday, Sept. 9, 2021.

Judi Amsel, treasurer of the congregation, said that the leadership team of Congregation Brith Sholem aims to ensure that the synagogue remains a welcoming place.

“Those who have made a commitment to the synagogue and have become members of the synagogue, they have skin in the game,” Amsel said. “And they are committed to the ongoing well-being of our community. … Everybody has a place at the table.”

Also to commemorate the anniversary, Cara Koolmees, an artist and member of the congregation, was commissioned to create a painting of the building.

Adam Rubin, Special to the Standard-Examiner

A painting by Cara Koolmees to commemorate the centennial anniversary of Utah’s oldest continuously operating synagogue is displayed during a community walking tour Thursday, Sept. 9, 2021.

Ward pointed out one example of how these communal connections come to fruition.

When Holly Andrew, curator of the Museums at Union Station, reached out to Congregation Brith Sholem about a planned exhibition and walking tour centered around Jewish history in Ogden, she was uninformed of the synagogue’s anniversary celebration.

Congregants were also unaware of the museum’s exhibition plan when Andrew reached out to them.

Amsel described working with Andrew as a “beautiful synchronicity.”

Adam Rubin, Special to the Standard-Examiner

Holly Andrew, left, Union Station’s museum and education curator, explains the Jewish heritage which built up 25th Street, during a community tour Thursday, Sept. 9, 2021.

On Sept. 9, a group of community members and congregants walked from Union Station and learned about Jewish sites along on Historic 25th Street, then walked to the synagogue, where the group was educated about the significance of the celebration.

“My little boy was here tonight, and he is going to remember being in this place. … My goal would be that he would be more open to understanding different trains of thoughts,” Andrew said, close to tears. “We’re a community-focused museum, so it makes us proud.”

Amsel stated these connections are not bound by a series of beliefs or practices. Rather, she said, Judaism in Ogden is focused on creating a series of relationships, whether familial, congregational or community oriented.

Adam Rubin, Special to the Standard-Examiner

Judi Amsel shows community members the new Torah mantle covers and lectern covers inside the Congregation Brith Sholem Synagogue on Thursday, Sept. 9, 2021.

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