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History of Temple B'nai B'rith

In the 1830s the first recorded Jews in the Wilkes-Barre area came from France and various German States. By the 1840s there were enough Jews to form a congregation and in 1845 Congregation B’nai B’rith of Wilkes-Barre was established as an Orthodox congregation. In 1849 a brick synagogue was built and dedicated on South Washington Street in Wilkes-Barre.

In the 1860s, after the Civil War, the Congregation adopted the Reform prayer book, becoming an early member of the American Reform movement. In 1880/81 a second, larger synagogue, including an organ, was constructed on the same site on South Washington Street in Wilkes-Barre in the neo-Byzantine style popular at the time.

After World War 2, with many of its younger members moving across the Susquehanna River to Kingston, five lots were purchased on Wyoming Avenue and North Maple Street in Kingston. In 1958 Samuel Z. Moskowitz, FAIA designed our current facility with construction completed in 1959. The building is steel framed with fireproof gypsum block back-up walls faced with Roman sized brick. The front, Wyoming Avenue façade, is concave in plan and faced with Travertine. The words from Micah, “DO JUSTLY … LOVE MERCY … WALK HUMBLY WITH THY GOD” are in brass letters along with a menorah, along the top of this Travertine wall. The original cornerstone from the South Washington building was reinstalled alongside our new cornerstone.

In 1972 as a result of Hurricane Agnes, our facility was inundated with an excess of 10 feet of water on the main floor. The firm them known as Bohlin & Powell Architects was hired to oversee interior and mechanical renovations, and in 1973 Temple B’nai B’rith was re-opened.

In 1998, a canopy for weather protection was built over the parking lot side entrance and an ADA compliant ramp added at the front entrance, making the main floor of our facility wheelchair accessible. An ADA compliant rest room was also added at that time.

Our present facility consists of a 200+ seat sanctuary containing an oak detailed Bimah and four (2 @ 20 ft. x 16 ft. high & 2 @ 12 ft. by 16 ft. high) contemporary stained glass windows. Adjacent to the sanctuary is our Auditorium with a raised stage at the opposite end facing the Bimah and three (9 ft wide by 16 ft. high) stained glass windows on a side wall. The remainder of the main floor includes an entry vestibule, administrative office, rabbi’s office six classrooms  the Baltimore Library and restrooms. The lower level contains additional classrooms, a chapel & our mechanical room.

Between 2010 and 2017 various small projects including the rebuilding and repaving of our parking lot, enhancement of exterior security hardware, adding handrails at the Bimah and installation of ADA compliant interior door levers were undertaken.

In 2018, two larger projects, the replacement of our circa 1973 mechanical systems, the replacement & relocation of our circa 1973 emergency generator and the replacement of our circa 1980 security system were completed.

Starting in late 2020 & completed in December 2021, the complete restoration of the exterior of Temple B’nai B’rith was undertaken. Rusted steel window lintels were either removed & replaced or “cleaned” and painted with rust-proof paint. New bricks, matching our Roman sized bricks, were used to replace bricks damaged during removal of the lintels. All bricks were repointed, stress cracked bricks replaced and expansion joints added. The Travertine façade was completely removed, repaired, cleaned, and stored. It’s back up wall was repaired, waterproofed and the Travertine reinstalled. During this portion of the project, similar Travertine, salvaged from the “Old” JCC was incorporated into the wall, replacing a few damaged corners of the Travertine panels.

Simultaneous to this project, the 2 Stars of David, Menorahs and the tablets of Moses in our Sanctuary’s stained glass windows were repaired and protected by a clear exterior glass panel.  An exterior plaque recognizing these 2020-21 renovations will be installed.

In the near future, a scheduled replacement of our EPDM membrane roof should be undertaken.

 

Wed, May 18 2022 17 Iyar 5782