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Celebrating a century of B'nai Jacob

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Centennial celebration

What: Congregation B'nai Jacob celebrates its 100th anniversary with yearlong events, including a Kiddush luncheon and dinner this weekend; Jewish genealogist Arthur Kurzweil and a mock Jewish wedding in January; a kugel cookoff in February; and Hebrew and Yiddish calligrapher Peggy H. Davis in March.
Where: 7227 Bittersweet Moors Drive
Contact: 672-8459 or visit www.bnaijacobfw.org.

Congregation plans several events to celebrate milestone.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012 - 12:01 am

The families at Congregation B'nai Jacob will enjoy special guests, food and fellowship activities as it celebrates its 100th anniversary throughout the upcoming year.

Congregation B'nai Jacob, which observes Conservative Judaism, or a more conservative approach in preserving the Jewish religion and heritage, begins its centennial celebration this weekend with services at 7:30 p.m. Friday and at 9:15 a.m. Saturday, Rabbi Mitchell Kornspan said.

An Oneg Shabbat reception follows the Friday service, while a Kiddush luncheon takes place after Saturday morning's service. There also will be a 5:30 p.m. dinner, complete with cocktails and entertainment by the University of Saint Francis Jazz Ensemble and lyric tenor singer Franck Hagendorf.

Congregation B'nai Jacob has a membership of about 90 families.

Leah Tourkow, a second-generation family member, has worked on the historical documentation of the B'nai Jacob. A special video presentation and a 56-page book will be available to those who attend the dinner.

Tourkow said she became the congregation's historian after her mother passed the history on to her.

Built on faith

B'nai Jacob officially became a synagogue Sept. 29, 1912, and Tourkow's family joined the congregation in 1938, when the building was on the corner of East Wayne and Monroe streets. Saul Schorr and Mendal Hurwitz were among the first spiritual leaders.

Three things Tourkow said she remembers about that building are the many steps it took to reach the front doors, the “gorgeous windows” and the balcony, where women sat separately from men.

In 1956, the congregation moved into its second building at 2340 Fairfield Ave.

Tourkow said that building was “efficient and big,” with a theater, sanctuary, chapel and a big library. The building, which later became the home of the Fort Wayne Philharmonic, is centrally located and included a ramp for the disabled.

The congregation did not move again until 1993 to its current location at 7227 Bittersweet Moors Drive, inside Bittersweet addition off U.S. 24.

A developer wanted to build an apartment complex inside the addition, Tourkow explained, and the association either offered for a nominal price or donated the land to the congregation to prevent the building of that apartment complex.

Kornspan said families attend services from within a 50-mile radius because the only other synagogues that observe Conservative Judaism are in South Bend and Indianapolis.

Kornspan, who became rabbi to the congregation in 2004, said, “The people weren't afraid to roll up their sleeves to work. There was something religious, multigenerational — the flavor of Conservative Judaism — which attracted me.”

More celebration

Kornspan acknowledges this multigenerational aspect when speaking about other centennial celebration events.

•Arthur Kurzweil, one of the foremost Jewish genealogists, will speak about “Generation to Generation: How to Trace Your Jewish Genealogy and Family History” in January.

Kornspan said 90 percent of Jewish people today have had family members killed in the Holocaust, which hamper genealogy research efforts. He also said there will be a mock Jewish wedding that weekend.

•A kugel (pudding) cookoff takes place Feb. 2. Kornspan said kugel is a “quintessential Jewish food item” made from egg noodles or potatoes.

•Hebrew calligrapher Peggy H. Davis will visit March 3 to teach principles of Hebrew and Yiddish calligraphy. There will be workshops and klezmer, or Jewish soul, music featured that same weekend.