Yeshuat Israel, founded in Newport during the colonial era, was Rhode Island’s first Jewish congregation. Ours, officially known as Congregation Sons of Israel and David, originated in 1854, also as an Orthodox house of worship. As one of New England’s earliest Reform congregations, however, it joined the Union of American Hebrew Congregations (now known as the Union of Reform Judaism) in 1877. Although several families have belonged to Temple Beth-El for generations, a large number have been new to America, new to Providence or new to Judaism. Indeed, ours is the state’s only Jewish congregation that has built three synagogues. The first, erected in downtown Providence in 1890, was used until the second was built in South Providence in 1911. It became widely known as Temple Beth-El.
Made possible by two key bequests, the congregation’s third home was erected on Providence’s East Side in 1954. Designed by Percival Goodman, it was one of the first and finest examples of a modern-style synagogue in New England. Having been lovingly maintained, this graceful edifice and its daring symbolic art have inspired subsequent generations to understand and celebrate Jewish tradition in new and abiding ways. Many congregants fondly remember two of our most distinguished rabbis. Dr. William G. Braude served from 1932 until 1974; his assistant and successor, Leslie Y. Gutterman, served from 1970 until 2015. Blessed with individual strengths and talents, each set a record as Rhode Island’s longest-serving rabbi. The chair of senior rabbi and the religious school have been endowed in Rabbi Gutterman’s honor. Our congregation has also enjoyed steady and inspired leadership from several assistant and associate rabbis. Temple Beth-El established new traditions when it appointed the state’s first woman rabbi and the state’s first woman cantor. Numerous educators, librarians, and executive directors have also added to our strength.
Many caring and thoughtful members, including 38 presidents (four of them women), have guided our congregation. Although some have achieved prominence in business, the professions, education, the arts, journalism, and politics, the unsung have also mattered. Accordingly, there are no reserved seats in the main sanctuary or the chapel. The congregation’s stability and devotion are evident in other ways. For example, the daily minyan, begun in 1955, is the oldest within the Reform movement. The Braude Library is one of North America’s largest congregational libraries. In 1989 the Temple inaugurated its Bernhardt History Gallery and published its own comprehensive history. Sons of Israel and David’s peaceful cemetery, which originated in 1849, represents another faithful link through the ages.