During WWII, the Hanford Engineering Works (HEW) brought a great influx of workers into the Columbia Basin area to build the then secret nuclear project for the production of Plutonium to build an atomic bomb.
On July 7, 1950 fifteen Jews met at the home of Tillie and Meyer Elkins to hold an organizational meeting. Two weeks later they conducted their first prayer service, followed by singing, a book review, discussion and refreshments. Together they formed the Richland Jewish Congregation, meeting in one another’s homes every other Friday evening for prayer and sociability. Over thirty people attended the High Holiday services that year. A Sunday School was begun, with five mothers and nine children at the first session, Bar Mitzvah training undertaken, a constitution adopted, prayer books obtained, and annual dues set at $5.00 per member–all during that first year.
The Congregation swelled and diminished with the vagaries of employment on the Hanford Project. But the seeds that were planted in 1950 grew and flourished through the years. A search for a Torah culminated in 1956, when we took possession of a Torah rescued from Europe. Services moved from our homes to school rooms until the dream of a Synagogue of our own came true. In 1959 the Synagogue was dedicated by Rabbi Joshua Stampfer of Portland and we became Congregation Beth Sholom. The building was enlarged in 1967. Though we have never had the benefit of a full-time rabbi or cantor, all services and life cycle observances have taken place there: study, baby-namings, bar/bat mitzvahs, confirmations, conversions, Seders, weddings, and funerals; it has truly become the center of our Jewish community.
Beth Sholom Sisterhood was founded in 1957, spurred on by efforts to furnish and beautify the new Synagogue. Eleven years later, the Sisterhood had enlarged its scope to include educational and social aims and became affiliated with the National Women’s League of Conservative Judaism. In 1963, with the help of Rabbi Wilfred Solomon of Vancouver, B.C., the local chapter of United Synagogue Youth was formed. And in 1983 Congregation Beth Sholom associated with the Conservative movement by joining United Synagogue of America.
To inflate our own small voice and to keep in touch with like congregations throughout the State of Washington, the Congregation became a founding member of Washington Association of Jewish Communities (WAJCO) in 1985. We also provide a link for understanding to the general population. Foremost, of course, is the commitment to serve and represent the Jewish community in spiritual, educational ways and to be as family with one another.