About Us - 1866-Present
Congregation B’nai Israel, Little Rock, Arkansas, was officially organized on November 11, 1866. It is interesting to note that the Yad that was presented by our Ladies Benevolent Society to the Congregation in 1868 is currently used when reading Torah from our Bimah. We are a charter member and one of thirty-two Congregations that were represented at the First Assembly of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations in 1873. We have been a member of the Union throughout our history. The dedication of our first Temple, a rented room, took place in August of 1871. The Congregation soon purchased a site, began raising funds and started planning for construction of a Temple building. In 1872, the Congregation celebrated the dedication of an actual Temple building in downtown Little Rock. In May of 1897, we dedicated a new Temple at Broadway and Capital Avenue in downtown Little Rock. This was our Congregational home for over 70 years. Our current building in West Little Rock was dedicated in 1975. It is a beautiful, contemporary building that incorporates many of the treasures from our previous Temple.

Our Congregation’s history and success is also intricately linked with the history and success of Central Arkansas. Many of our local institutions, businesses and agencies have been and currently are directly affected by our Congregants' hard work and generosity.

Our Congregation had a strong link with the American Civil Rights Movement. Rabbi Ira Sanders provided strong rabbinic leadership for our Congregation during a turbulent time in our civic history throughout his 37-year tenure. Many of our Congregants were also active in the Civil Rights struggle, particularly involved in the desegregation of Central High School. Rabbi E.E. Palnick succeeded Rabbi Sanders, for a 23-year tenure. Rabbi Eugene Levy retired in 2011 after serving our Congregation for 24 years. Currently, our rabbinic partner Rabbi Barry Block. 

In September 2008, our Congregation and guests united to celebrate a successful building campaign, enabling a renovation of our current Temple. In 2009, our leadership began to actively focus on the needs of future generations of our Congregational family. Our Congregation and leadership created a strategic plan that facilitated our goal of an open and caring Reform Congregation that together worships, learns and performs acts of loving-kindness. Currently, Temple B’nai Israel is working through the second year of a 3-year plan that focuses on worship, lifelong learning, social action, membership, administration and finance. The recent expansion of the social and educational areas has brought our facility and congregation into the 21st century and a focus on lifelong learning of our members and their interest.

Our Congregation is fortunate that many of our actively involved members are descendents of our visionary founders. Our continued success is largely due to the many congregants who have joined and have become involved in our Congregation throughout our nearly 150-year history. We are proud of the fact that we are a varied community that respects the traditions in the Reform Movement and also nurtures the diversity of our members. We have embraced and promoted many of the URJ’s initiatives while trying to balance this forward movement with our Congregation's traditions.

We are a Congregation that is deeply rooted in the Reform movement, our members’ lives and our local history. We are looking forward to celebrating our 150th year anniversary in 2016 and working to further integrate our history with respect to a Reform future.

Temple on Center Street (1872)

Current Temple building (1975)

Renovated Sanctuary (2008)

Congregation B'nai Israel Celebrates 150 Years!
Article from the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette / Christie Storm
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