HISTORY OF WATERBURY
In 1890 a small group of Yidden formed a Shul called Agudas Achim and in 1893 they organized a Talmud Torah, and for the next few years davening took place in private homes. With tremendous determination, in 1900 Agudas Achim purchased a Shul building. By 1902 the Talmud Torah was reopened with an enrollment of 60 children! On June 10, 1906, over 500 were present at the groundbreaking ceremony for a brand-new shul building. The Shul would be called Beth Israel. It wasn’t until October 22, 1911 that Waterbury installed its first Rav, Rabbi David B. Swerin who was a young Polish Talmud Chacham who was versed in Shas and Poskim. In 1915 Rabbi Swerin left to become the rabbi of the Montefiore Synagogue in Philadelphia. Once again, Beth Israel was without a rabbi for four years. In 1919 Rabbi Yeshaya David Yurman came to serve as the shul’s second rabbi. He was respected and admired by all, Jew and gentile alike. Rabbi Yuman’s life came to an untimely end at the age of 57 when he was hit by a car while running to catch a bus. In 1927, Rabbi Moses D. Sheinkopf, a talmid of Slabodka, became the Rav of the shul.
Harav Mordechai Gifter zt”l cam to Waterbury in December 1941, after having served as the Rav of a shul in Baltimore, Maryland. Rav Gifter led the shul until 1945, when he left to become the Rosh Yeshiva of the Telz Yeshiva in Cleveland. At that time Rav Abba Zalka Gewirtz zt”l became the Rav. Rav Abba Zalka served as Rav for 25 years, longer than any other Rav in Waterbury’s history. Rav Gewirtz founded a Talmud Torah named Beth David Academy and staffed it with true melamdim. In August 1968, Rabbi Gewirtz announced that he was joining Rav Gifter in Cleveland as Vice President of the Telz Yeshiva. The board asked Rabbi Gewirtz’s son, Rabbi Jonah Gewirtz, to succeed his father as rabbi. In 1969, Rabbi Seymour Gewirtz left, and Rabbi Jonah Gewirtz became the rabbi. For many years, there had been another in Waterbury, known as Shearis Israel. The two shuls shared a Rav and the main difference between the two shuls was that Shearis Israel was Sephardi, Beth Israel was Ashkenazi. Rabbi Jonah Gewirtz’s goal was to unite Waterbury’s two Orthodox shuls. At this time, there was a shul in Naugatuck that was losing members and on the verge of closing. They were interested in merging with another shul in the hopes of being able to have enough membership to continue. On Thursday night, January 30, 1969, the two Waterbury institutions and the one in Naugatuck merged. On January 21, 1971, a beautiful new building was dedicated for this new shul name “B’nai Shalom.”
The Jewish population in Waterbury began to decline, and this was reflected in the decline of B’nai shalom membership. A turning point in the shul’s history was when it, together with Torah Menorah, helped arrange for the establishment of a Yeshiva of Waterbury under the leadership of Rabbi Ahron Kaufman. In 2000, the Yeshiva Gedolah opened its doors. The Yeshiva brought with it an influx of bnei Torah who have transformed the landscape of the city of Waterbury. Since the year 2000 the shul has continuously grown in ruchniyus to match the needs of these bnei yeshiva. In 2006 Rabbi Yosef Sonnenschein was hired as the Rav. Since then many more bnei Torah have taken an active role in running the Shul. Together, and with Hashem’s help the shul continues to grow and flourish.