First came the railroad! Then came the Jews!
Arriving in 1880 the railroad provided multiple economic opportunities within Asheville and the surrounding area. Jewish settlers joined the influx of newcomers, opening dry goods stores which ultimately formed the basis for Asheville’s downtown. By 1891 the Jewish Community in Asheville, while small, was growing and the decision was made to establish a synagogue. Congregation Beth HaTephila was formed with twenty-seven founding members.
Meeting initially in Lyceum Hall, the original Articles of Incorporation, dated November 25, 1892 stated “This organization is formed for the purpose of holding services, establishing a Sunday School, purchasing a cemetery, acquiring a house of worship, or any purpose within the scope of Judaism.” According to its founding charter, Beth HaTephila “shall be conservative.” This was before a formal Conservative Movement was established in the United States and the founders of Beth HaTephila introduced many reform practices, including the use of a choir and purchase of an organ. Although Reform practices were incorporated it was not until 1908 that CBHT joined the Union of American Hebrew Congregations (now known as the Union of Reform Judaism).
By 1900 Beth HaTephila was meeting in the Knights of Pythius Hall on Friday nights and Saturday mornings. In 1902, a former church on Spruce Street was purchased by the Congregation and for the next forty-seven years remained the Temple’s “home.” Throughout these years Beth HaTephila’s membership waned due to the depression and the continued economic downturn in the early 1930’s. Yet despite these difficulties, the decision to “soldier on” was made and by 1941 the membership had risen to 113 families. The resurgence continued and in
1949, the Congregation was able to build its own synagogue.
In 2009, recognizing that the structure built in 1949 didn’t meet the needs of the growing Beth HaTephila Community, the decision was made to refurbish and expand the original Temple. Construction commenced in 2011 and the building was rededicated in December of 2012.
Significantly, the current building design “wraps around” the original 1949 edifice. It is a symbol of the concept of L’Dor V’Dor, from generation to generation, upon which the decision to renew and revitalize the building was made.
2016 marks 125 years since our founding fathers established Congregation Beth HaTephila. Throughout these years the Congregation that has proudly served the Jewish Community of WNC. It is poised to do so for generations to come.