Congregation B’nai Jacob (CBJ) of Bakersfield is the first and oldest continuous Jewish Conservative Synagogue in Kern County, California. With its incorporation in 1916, the congregation has thrived under decades of different leaders, seen different buildings to call home and suffered inevitable hardships, but nonetheless survived the vision it was built upon: providing a path to Jewish identity and a place to call home. And it has provided this incredible opportunity for 100 years.
In 1916, CBJ was made up of 35 chapter members under its first president, Morris Rudneck. These pioneers of Judaism sought to build a viable Jewish community in the area, and was the first organization in Kern County dedicated to serving the religious needs of the Jewish community. Now in 2016, the congregation is celebrating its 100th anniversary with a party embracing the faces and families who helped make it such a significant place of worship.
With an influx of wise and varying personalities in the rabbi and other leadership roles, the congregation saw many changes and faces come through its doors—but the values always remained the same.
“We were always a congregation of families,” says Howard Silver, longtime member and current spiritual leader of the congregation. The synagogue has long been a second home for many of its congregants, including Silver. That’s part of what made the 100th anniversary celebration so special this year. “All the family of members who have since passed came to the celebration to keep their spirit alive,” he shares. “Those children who used to come as infants and toddlers grew up into adults, and all of them came back for the reunions. It’s such a sentimental reflection of everyone who visited, and it’s all thanks to the people who came before and made it what it was.”
The 100th anniversary celebration was not something to be missed. Though the synagogue held a 90th anniversary in 2006 along with a few others in years past, this was a milestone of incomparable magnitude.
The event was held on September 10, 2016. The evening began at 6:30 p.m. with cocktails, allowing attendees to mingle with friends old and new and celebrate a century of worship, belonging and shared values.
Longtime members Carol Schafer, Secretary on the Board of Directors, and Oscar Rudnick, Board Member and Master of Ceremonies for the evening, opened the night with welcome speeches and set the tone for what was to be a very sentimental and meaningful evening.
Hamotzi was led by Rabbi Michael Samuels of Temple Beth Shalom in Chula Vista, California, and the Havdalah by Rabbi Cheryl Rosenstein of Temple Beth El also in Bakersfield, California.
The congregation enjoyed the words of their keynote speaker, Mike Cohn, immediate past president of Temple Beth Am in Los Angeles, as well as a very sentimental speech with photos of the past 100 years by Silver himself.
The night was lit up by the presence and participation of former rabbis, dignitaries, former members and their children, present members and friends of the synagogue, all to pay tribute to and honor the congregation’s immeasurable influence on the Jews of the area and all the lives it has touched.
With such a strong foundation of dedicated members, it’s no surprise this congregation made it to 100 years, and it’ll be exciting to see what the next 100 brings.