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Congregation celebrates 100 years as Modesto region's Jewish center

Rabbi Shalom Bochner blows a rams horn, or Shofar, to close a ceremony at Congregation Beth Shalom in 2015.
Rabbi Shalom Bochner blows a rams horn, or Shofar, to close a ceremony at Congregation Beth Shalom in 2015. The Modesto Bee

Modesto's Congregation Beth Shalom marks a major milestone this month — a century of being the center of Jewish life in the region. CBS will celebrate its 100th anniversary with community events on Feb. 16-17 and Feb. 24.

"It's extremely exciting to lead such a diverse and historic congregation," Rabbi Shalom Bochner said of the milestone. "Many Jewish communities in California can celebrate turning 100 years old, but very few others, if any others, can celebrate that those who founded the congregation 100 years ago still have grandchildren and great grandchildren involved. We have an incredibly strong sense of institutional memory here."

CBS originally was established as First Hebrew Congregation of Modesto on Feb.14, 1918, a small orthodox synagogue at 14th and F streets downtown, according to a press release. A social hall later was added at that site where the congregation maintained an active sisterhood and held holiday gatherings.

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A historic photo from the 1950s of Hebrew school youths at Congregation Beth Shalom. Submitted by Congregation Beth Shalom

In 1963, First Hebrew moved to its present location on Sherwood Avenue and was re-named Congregation Beth Shalom, which means "House of Peace." At that time the congregation was affiliated as a more liberal house of worship with the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism, the release said.

That move also served as a kick-off point for several cultural events hosted by CBS over the decades, where they have opened their doors not just to members, but to people from throughout the community. Those events include the popular Cafe Shalom, an annual Jewish food and cultural fair, Sunday Afternoons at CBS, a monthly concert series now in its 26th year, and the annual First Responders meals.

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Dancers perform during a 1999 Cafe Shalom festival at Congregation Beth Shalom. The Modesto Bee

CBS also began offering films and educational programs including guest speakers, lectures and classes on topics including Kabbalah (Jewish mysticism), Hebrew for adults, and Meaningful Judaism.

In addition, the congregation has expanded its annual menorah lightings during Hanukkah to several locations across Modesto and other surrounding communities. CBS always invites members of all faiths from across the region to attend its events and celebrations.

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Participants in Community Seder sip wine and grape juice after a blessing by Rabbi Art Gould at Congregational Beth Shalom in 2008. The Modesto Bee

Entering its next 100 years, Bochner said CBS wants "to be an even more vibrant center for Jewish life serving our members and the greater public" with its community events as well as continue to be involved in interfaith efforts in the region.

CBS also plans to focus on its physical campus, remodeling its kitchen and modernizing the sanctuary. Bochner said the congregation also will improve publicity and outreach efforts, and grow its youth programs. "We know that Modesto is an attractive place to live with relatively affordable housing compared to the Bay Area, and we hope to attract more members, particularly families with younger children."

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Rabbi Shalom Bochner leads a small group in songs during the Hanukkah menorah lighting at McHenry Village in Modesto in December. The Modesto Bee

There have been 22 rabbi and spiritual leaders at CBS since its inception, the first being Rabbi Solomon Radinovsky, who lead the congregation from 1918-1928. Rabbi Judah L. Fish was there for the move to its Sherwood campus, serving from 1961-1964 and Rabbi Samuel Graudenz was the longest serving thus far, from 1967-1992; Bochner has served since 2013.

Congregation Beth Shalom remains the only Jewish congregation in Stanislaus County. Celebrations for the 100th anniversary include a special Shabbat (Sabbath) program of services and meals on Friday, Feb. 16; Shabbat services and a Kiddush lunch as well as a walking tour of the original Jewish neighborhood of Modesto on Saturday, Feb. 17; and a gala event at the Gallo Center for the Arts on Saturday, Feb. 24.

The gala will include a dinner with kosher-style options, live music and presentations about the congregation over the decades.

"This is a celebration of 100 years of Jewish life in Stanislaus County," Bochner said, "and now we are looking forward to the next 100 years."

CBS 100th Anniversary celebrations

WHEN: 6:30 p.m. Friday, Feb. 16, Shabbat (Sabbath) Services and 7:15 p.m. Shabbat Dinner; 10 a.m.-noon Saturday, Feb. 17, Shabbat services and Kiddush lunch; 3 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 17, walking tour; 6:30 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 24, gala celebration and dinner

WHERE: Feb. 16-17 Shabbat services, dinner and lunch at Congregation Beth Shalom, 1705 Sherwood Ave., Modesto; Feb. 17 walking tour begins in front of McHenry Museum, 1402 I St., Modesto; Feb. 24 gala at Gallo Center for the Arts, 1000 I St., Modesto

TICKETS: Feb. 16 dinner $12 adults, $5 children, $30 for a family of four or more, reserve before Friday.; Feb. 17 events free; Feb. 24 gala $100

CALL: 209-571-6060 for Shabbat reservations and gala tickets