B’nai Havurah, the Reconstructionist congregation established in 1963 in Denver, celebrated its 50th anniversary at a special event on March 23 at the Loup JCC.
Themed “Founders Seekers,” the evening paid tribute to synagogue founders Art and Ruth Chapman, Diane (Greenspun) Choate, Harvey and Judy Cohen, Shirley and Mike Coren, Art and Janet Fine, Celeste Grynberg, Arnie and Saundra Heller, Susanne Nathanson, Alida Stein and Irwin and Carol Wagner.
The congregation started out as a study group formed by six couples in 1961 after hearing a talk about Reconstructionism by Rabbi Ira Eisenstein.
Within two years, the group doubled in size. Art and Janet Fine joined the first chavurah because they already knew and admired the other members.
The chavurah was officially incorporated into the Reconstructionist movement in 1963.
Arnie and Saundra Heller, among the original founders, grew up in Orthodox homes on Denver’s West Side. They were attracted to movement’s inclusiveness and informality.
Alida Stein says she still appreciates the grassroots services at B’nai Havurah and continues to subscribe to the ideals of Mordecai Kaplan, the founder of Reconstructionism: “The past deserves a vote but not a veto.”
Bobbie and Ed Towbin joined the congregation in 1967. “We all knew each other,” Bobbie Towbin says. “By then, the two chavurot had a lot of energy and their collective journey made them feel close to each other.”
She remembers that starting the religious school in 1969 “was a big thing.” Students met in members’ homes.
Ruth Chapman says that seeing the kids’ enthusiasm “showed just how successful the new community was at making Judaism meaningful.”
When the need for a rabbi became apparent, Harvey Cohen remembers at least “a year of debate” on the issue. The first rabbi was hired in 1983.
B’nai Havurah began renting space in its current location at 6445 E. Ohio Ave., and purchased the building in 1995.
Rabbi Evette Lutman is the spiritual leader of B’nai Havurah, which has over 230 family units. There are 17 chavurot and 102 at-large members.
“We felt that it was important to mark our 50th year and celebrate our journey — where we have come from and who we are today,” says co-chair Elizabeth Ferber Reader.