By Brian Edward Brouse
Synagogues that reach their centennial celebrations are sometimes tired versions of their youthful selves. But Congregation B’nai Emunah has reached the hundred-year mark with its vigor and energy intact. For the last full year, CBE has celebrated a centennial event every month without fail and published new liturgical materials, CD compilations of its music program, and biographical portfolios on its founders, its presidents, and each of the seven senior rabbis in the history of the congregation. It also succeeded in engaging its young people in creating a large-scale Lego replica of the Synagogue building. That model represents the hope that the Synagogue will be cherished by the next generation, just as it has by those who founded and nurtured it for ten consecutive decades.
The year began with an inaugural event featuring filmmaker Tim Blake Nelson, who touchingly described his childhood experiences at the Synagogue and hilariously recalled the leading personalities of the time. The culminating Centennial Gala on the night of Sunday, December 11, was a fitting climax. Over 300 guests, including members and friends of the Congregation, came to the Synagogue for an uplifting experience of joy and celebration. Gala co-chairs Nancy Cohen, Mark Goldman, and Jolene Sanditen-Stephens set the stage with a decision to bring guests together for a festive night of feasting and dancing. The building was beautifully illuminated inside and out with swirling blue light, and every corner of the facility said something about the Synagogue’s past, present, and future. Three historic videos featured important voices from the past: Rabbi Arthur Dov Kahn; past president Dr. Manuel Brown; and Gete Weisman, who spoke about the life and hard work of her parents, Louis and Bessie Blend. Another display featured cherished objects from the Synagogue archive, including programs from previous anniversaries and historic photos from the collection of Rosetta and Avrom Brodsky. A third gallery was given over to a light-hearted display of one hundred imprinted kippot (yarmulkas) representing life-cycle events from every period of congregational life.
A short welcome by the co-chairs gave way to blessings by Rabbi Daniel Kaiman over two magnificent challot, baked for the occasion by Dr. W.C. Goad. This was followed by an elegant, five-course dinner of sea bass, cavatelli pasta, and a rich chocolate dessert, all catered by Justin Thompson Restaurants. Golem NYC, a retro-hip ensemble of new-wave Jewish musicians, flew into Tulsa for the occasion and kept guests dancing from beginning to end. Meanwhile, a thousand images of Synagogue members and friends were projected onto large screens in Kaiser-Miller auditorium and gave depth and context to the event. It was especially meaningful to those present that the event took place with the Sanctuary Ark illuminated on one side of the room and the brightly-lit stage on the other. This was truly an example of a congregation celebrating an important milestone in its own home.
Immediately following the meal, CBE president Craig Silberg thanked everyone for coming, and commended the hundreds of volunteers who were involved in the year-long centennial celebration. Rabbi Fitzerman followed with his hope that the next century would be marked by moments of great joy, deep curiosity about Jewish tradition, and the pursuit of justice and equity in the larger world. One mark of a healthy religious community is the ability to see beyond its own needs and sweep the whole world into its circle of concern.
David Edward Charney, past president and CBE Foundation Board member, spoke about the Scott Foreman Zarrow Rabbinic Endowment Fund, a new effort to ensure top-flight leadership in the century to come. Millions of dollars have been raised, with a general campaign now beginning. When the Zarrow Endowment is fully funded, the Synagogue will join the ranks of a tiny number of congregations world-wide with an endowed rabbinate.
Rabbi Fitzerman closed with the official presentation of a new Torah scroll. Originally commissioned by the congregation for its 90th anniversary, the Torah had been dedicated, but not yet brought to the center of a congregational event. With the prompting of music by the visiting band, the Congregation formed great circles around President Silberg as he held the Torah, and began to dance. Many congregants participated in the writing of the Torah, and their contributions were symbolized by the presence of Joseph Charney, the youngest person in attendance, and Norman Levin, the most senior of the Synagogue’s elders. Both were seated in throne chairs in the center of the room. Dressed in a mantle fashioned by Rabbi Fitzerman, the Torah was mounted on staves created in Tulsa for the occasion and carried aloft in a swirl of sound and light.