B’Nai Israel, Beth Shalom to merge

Baton Rouge’s two synagogues—B’Nai Israel and Beth Shalom—have announced they are merging  and will become a single congregation, effective Jan. 1.

In an interview on the radio show Talk Louisiana with Jim Engster earlier this morning, officials from the two synagogues disclosed the merger, which became official Aug. 22, after board members from both congregations voted to move forward with the union.

“The best path forward for the Jewish community in Baton Rouge is to unify,” says Beth Shalom’s Steve Cavalier. “As a bigger congregation we will be able to do more.”

Together, the combined congregation will have about 300 families, according to B’Nai Israel’s Jack Kunstler.

Currently, B’Nai Israel has about 170 members and Beth Shalom has around 130 families.

The two synagogues have formed a joint board that will meet for the first time Sunday to start discussing things like what the new congregation will be called and whether it will relocate to a new facility or renovate one of the existing facilities.

B’Nai Israel is on Kleinert Avenue in the Garden District. Beth Shalom is on Jefferson Highway.

Both synagogues have been in existence for more than 100 years and count many prominent business and civic leaders among their members.

Both are Reform congregations—as opposed to Conservative or Orthodox, the other two main branches of modern Judaism—which is unusual in a community the size of Baton Rouge, Kuntsler says.

There was no single catalyst for the merger, which has been in the works for more than two years. Leaders of both congregations recognized the need to grow and, especially, to engage more young people in the faith, Kunstler says.