Tyler Synagogue Celebrates 125-Year Anniversary
By TIM MONZINGO
Congregation Beth El wrapped up a three-day celebration Sunday with a message to the community echoed in their past and plans for the future.
The synagogue celebrates 125 years in Tyler this year and Sunday's worship and commemorative service was delivered through ministers, priests, reverends and rabbis who spoke of the tightly woven, interfaith community in Tyler.
"For 125 years, this congregation has been at the forefront of community involvement and interfaith dialogue," said Rabbi Neal Katz, Beth El's eighth full-time rabbi in its history. "We recognize that we stand on the shoulders that came before us."
More than 100 Tyler residents of various faiths and religious affiliations filled the temple's sanctuary, including Mayor Barbara Bass.
During the course of a little more than an hour, Tyler's religious and community leaders took the lectern to talk about the partnerships that have developed between the synagogue and other institutions of faith, all for one goal: To make Tyler a better place to live.
"We could have chosen to dislike each other for out differences, but we decided to celebrate our commonality," said Anwar Khalifa, vice president of the East Texas Islamic Society. "Thank God we chose to love."
In a service punctuated with jokes and good-natured ribbing, rabbis, ministers, priests and reverends praised the achievements made through the strength of Tyler's religious communities, regardless of denomination or creed.
Ultimately, said Rabbi Dr. Roy Walter, the idea of three days of celebration were about more than just the buildings, books and bodies of religion. It was about the people who strive for higher truth and a better world, thorough whatever means.
Walter touched on the tumultuous history Jews have faced. It's a history, he said, that makes the bonding with an acceptance by a broad community so important.
"The celebration of Beth El's 125 anniversary is for us to celebrate this nation's openness to us," he said. "For 125 years, Congregation Beth El and its leaders have been welcomed here. (The community) presence here I think attests to that."
Rabbi Katz said the image some people may have of East Texas in their mind, one of divided faiths and disunion, is far from the truth.
Instead, he said it's a place where the people and religious institutions work together for the betterment of the city and community as a whole.
"It's been a very good, integrated, supportive community without any strife," he said.
That sentiment was echoed by Mayor Barbara Bass, who made a declaration of May 6, 2012 as an anniversary day for the synagogue.
"The fiber of Tyler, Texas is in its faith community," she said.
While Sunday's service was an opportunity to open the synagogue's services to the public, Katz said it was by no means the only way people interested in Judaism can learn about their faith.
In the future, Congregation Beth El plans to hold Hebrew courses for the public, as well as introductory courses on Judaism for non-Jews.
He added that their Friday services are always open to the public.
Though hailing from different institutions, teachings and faiths, the speakers and religious leaders at Sunday's event agreed on a message central to each ideology and tenant of their faiths: love.
"We are all God's children," Walter said. "The more we work together, the better out communities."