Congregation Beth Israel moves into synagogue

By Krystal Allan - bio | email

GULFPORT, MS (WLOX) - Congregation Beth Israel began the journey to its new home where it started - in Biloxi at the site of the old synagogue Hurricane Katrina destroyed.

Members met at the old site at the corner of Camelia and Southern in Biloxi Thursday evening.  They walked across the footprint of the old synagogue carrying the Torah, Hebrew scripture widely known as the first five books of the Old Testament in the Bible.

For some, it brought back memories of when the old synagogue was dedicated back in 1958.

"I was a kid back in 1958.  The community came together, and they built the synagogue for the kids, the future.  I was one of them," former Board President Milton Grisham said.

Building for the future is why Congregation Beth Israel picked itself up and rebuilt its synagogue, this time in Gulfport. It's the first time the city has ever had a Jewish synagogue.

"This was only done for the children and the future generations," Building Committee Chairman Martin Goldin said.

Members drove from the site of the old synagogue to the new synagogue off Three Rivers Road. In keeping with tradition, once inside, they passed the Torah from person to person until it reached the arc at the front of the synagogue.

"We felt like we were wandering in the desert, and now we've reached the promise land," Grisham said.

The placing of the Torah inside the new arc held special significance for the congregation.  At sundown Thursday night, the Jewish community celebrated Shavuot, when God gave Moses the Torah scrolls on Mount Sinai.

"It was just overwhelming, I think, for the entire congregation to be under the same roof after Katrina on this night," Goldin said.

"I've been here three years, and to watch them come from having their hearts down in the ground to lifting their spirits up like this is just amazing," Rabbi Myrna Matsa with United Jewish Communities said.

The miracle of the synagogue's rebirth was just as amazing.  Through the hard work of members and support from the coast and beyond, the group has a new building, but no mortgage. After the final bill is paid, the synagogue will have a surplus. They plan to use the money for a maintenance fund.

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