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Chevra B’nai Israel Synagogue

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Chevra B’nai Israel Synagogue


Basic Information

Location 618 Mynster Street, Council Bluffs, Iowa, United States
Country United States
City Council Bluffs
Address 618 Mynster Street, Iowa

General Information

Open to visitors yes
Need appointment no
Handicap accessibility no
Website http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/US-Israel/CBYsyniowa.html
Geographical Coordinates 41.26286,-95.85242


B'nai Israel Synagogue is a Reconstructionist synagogue located in Council Bluffs, Iowa, United States. It is listed on the National Register of Historic Places by its original name Chevra B'nai Yisroel Synagogue in 2007.

History and time period

The first Jewish community in Council Bluffs was an Orthodox congregation in 1881 named Bikur Cholim. It had 25 charter members, but they had neither a rabbi nor a synagogue. They held services in rented facilities. Chevra B’nai Yisroel Congregation was organized in 1903 with 14 adult male members. They acquired the present property and a built a frame synagogue the following year. On March 5, 1930 the building was destroyed in a fire. Members from the congregation saved the Torah, sacred scrolls, and other religious items. A building committee was formed and plans were made for a new synagogue. Architect J. Chris Jensen was chosen to design the new building. The cornerstone from the former synagogue was recovered and was etched with an inscription for the new building. The new synagogue was completed on January 11, 1931. It seats 500 and was built for $26,000. The congregation continued to grow and after World War II the congregation changed from Orthodox to Conservative Judaism. English was now used in services and men and women could now sit together. Previously the women and children sat in the balcony. The congregation officially changed its name to B'nai Israel in November 1953. An addition was designed by I.T. Carrithers in the early 1960's to add more space to the front and back of the older building however only the back addition was built. Soon after the renovation the congregation began to decline in numbers. By 1980 plans were made to disband the congregation and sell the property. The membership, however, was determined to remain in place and recruited new members. In 1989 Rabbi Sharon Steifel became the first Re-constructionist rabbi at B'nai Israel.


The exterior of the synagogue is covered in polychrome, rough-cast brick. Classical entablature and galvanized iron cornice top the building. The building sits on a raised basement and the three doorways into the sanctuary are reached by a set of concrete steps. Inset panels of the Star of David and the tablets of the Ten Commandments inscribed in Hebrew are located above the doors. The interior is two-stories tall with a balcony, which had been reduced in size during the 1960's renovation. The congregation has seven Torahs, two of which were saved in the 1930 fire. The Ark is composed of dark wood paneling and classical pilasters. Louvered doors lead to the cabinet where is scrolls are kept.

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