CBOI History - 1883 to Present
Congregation Brothers of Israel was chartered June 2, 1883 to serve the needs of immigrants from Russia, Austria-Hungary and Poland who settled in Trenton, New Jersey. These Jews were Orthodox and felt uncomfortable in existing Reform synagogues established by the German Jews who emigrated earlier in the century. The synagogue was Orthodox and known as Hachaiano Benai Israelites of Trenton.
Signers of the original charter were: Israel Berman, Leib Lewin, Jacob Hamikelsky, Louis Latzkowitz, Abram Goodstein, Abraham Bernstein, Nathan Tobish, Nathan Siegle, Wolfe Fineburg, Reuben Cohen, Harris Adolphus, Harris Greenberg and Henry Goldstein.
Services were held in private homes initially. The first regular meeting place of the congregation was a small hall, the Hearnen Building at 101 St. Warren Street – the southwest corner of South Warren and Front Streets in Trenton. Then the congregation moved to the Washington Market Building on Front Street where it stayed for a couple more years. In August 1887, the members bought the Union Street Methodist Episcopal Church for $3,000. The synagogue was dedicated September 11, 1887.
Membership grew rapidly. In 1900, with 115 members and $275 in the treasury, the congregation demolished the building and drew up plans for a new one to meet the demands of the growing body. On July 26, 1900, with 550 people in attendance, the cornerstone of the new synagogue was laid.
Harry Haveson, chairman of the building fund committee, and congregation President Isaac Levy deposited a metal box in the cornerstone containing the following papers and articles: a city directory, copies of all newspapers published in the county, a picture of the old synagogue, legislative and city manuals, a copy of the contract for the erection of the synagogue, a list of members, the Psalms of David, a program of the exercises commemorating the laying of the stone, a Grand Army button and the United States and Zion flags.
The new synagogue was formally opened with services on September 23, 1900 for High Holiday services – without windows and seats!
Brothers of Israel and its members have always been active in community service including: helping to found the Free Loan Society, the Home for Wayfarers, Dr. Herzl Zion Hebrew Academy, a kosher slaughter house, and a mikvah. Members were instrumental in building the first Jewish Community Center, called the YMHA.
During World War I, the membership took an active part in the purchase of Liberty Bonds and War Bonds during World War II.
The synagogue continued to grow and the neighborhood changed. In 1953, the Union Street building was sold and on May 22, 1955 groundbreaking was held for a new synagogue at 491-509 Greenwood Avenue, Trenton. Isaac Bulitsky was president then. Samuel Abrams, a leader in the Jewish life of Trentonians, headed the building fund committee. The new facility would include classrooms, a chapel, lobby, kosher kitchen and an auditorium.
The completion of the new building also signaled the change from Orthodox to Conservative Judaism. The synagogue was completed in time for high holiday services in September 1956. Rabbi Gerald Lerer was hired as the new Rabbi.
In 1960, Rabbi Howard Hersch became spiritual leader of the congregation, and stayed in that role for 48 years. He saw a generation of youngsters grow from infancy to adulthood and have their own children. The synagogue became a leader in adult and youth Jewish education and led the way in introducing youth programs and making them an important part of synagogue life. Brothers of Israel was also a leader in social action projects in Trenton, from senior housing to kosher meals and joint programs with Jewish Family Service.
In 1963, the Brothers of Israel Trent Center apartment complexes were dedicated. The two buildings provide low rental housing for more than 500 older and disabled residents.
When the Greenwood Avenue synagogue building became inadequate, a renovation took place in 1973 to create the spacious facility that housed the congregation until its move to Newtown, Bucks County in 2007.
Brothers of Israel was the last synagogue to leave Trenton for the suburbs. With virtually no new Jewish families moving into the city, the congregation knew it needed to be near where members lived, and most were in Bucks County. Once again, the congregation purchased a building that housed a church. In doing so, Brothers of Israel became one of 16 congregations in Bucks County.
In 2009, Rabbi Hersch became Rabbi Emeritus – a position that keeps him tightly connected to the kehillah (community) where he enjoys the honor and respect and is a treasure for our community.
Since the move to Bucks County, Brothers of Israel has welcomed many new families from Newtown and the surrounding communities. CBOI is a kehillah (community) of people who have opened their hearts and their minds to the Jewish faith no matter where they are in their own religious journey. We meet the educational, social and religious needs of families from all backgrounds with diverse experiences.
On August 1, 2014, CBOI warmly welcomed Rabbi Aaron Gaber and his family, our new Spiritual Leader, as we continue to create an open and warm community of people seeking to share a rich and varied understanding of Judaism and Jewish life. In his free time, he enjoys backpacking, golfing, and spending time with his family. Rabbi Aaron Gaber is married to Sharon Bromberg and they are blessed with 4 children: Benjamin, Yonah, Aliza and Reena.
The Bromberg Gaber family looks forward to welcoming you to our kehillah (community) and getting to know you. You can reach Rabbi Gaber at Rabbi.Gaber@cboi.orgor by telephone at 215-579-2200.
Although the roots of Brothers of Israel were transplanted from Trenton, New Jersey to Newtown, Pennsylvania in 2007, synagogue leadership has maintained a commitment to our original community where some of our long time members were residing when the relocation took place.
In the mid-1960’s, newly arrived Rabbi Howard Hersch joined with other Trenton Jewish communal leaders in harvesting federal and state funds for senior housing on the Brothers of Israel campus on Greenwood Avenue. When the buildings opened, many parents and relatives of our members resided in those buildings, a very short walk to the synagogue for prayer services and other activities. Today, Trent Center East and Trent Center West and Project Freedom, a residence for handicapped adults, continue to serve the community. The buildings, modernized and energy-efficient, include 474 efficiency, one and two bedroom apartments as well as 34 assisted living suites.
Project Freedom is a four year old partnership building with 52 apartments specifically designed to accommodate persons with physical disabilities.
In the 1980’s, synagogue leadership created BTC Management, a non-profit corporation, to manage the buildings, as well as the synagogue kitchen and senior food service. That management company helped provide financial support for Congregation Brothers of Israel over a period of many years, while maintaining a well run and “award winning” complex, frequently honored by national and state agencies.
In December 2014, Trent Center East and West and the former synagogue building were sold to California Commercial Investment Group, Inc. an operator of affordable housing headquartered in Westlake Village, California. The buildings continue to provide a high level of affordable housing for Trenton seniors…carrying on the original CBOI commitment to the aging citizens of Trenton.
The proceeds of the sale have been placed in an endowment for the benefit of Congregation Brothers of Israel which synagogue leadership intends to perpetuate the mission of our CBOI community.
Newspaper articles re: Trenton/BOI
Brothers of Israel continues to own a portion of the Project Freedom housing, in partnership with PNC Bank. That building, located at the corner of Chestnut and Greenwood Avenues in Trenton, provides handicapped-equipped apartments which are reasonably priced and in close proximity to the Trenton Transit Center.
CBOI continues to be involved as a sponsor of another Trenton Housing facility, the Kingsbury Twin Towers. From its beginning, CBOI was part of a consortium of religious institutions that stepped up to support the mission of those buildings. Kingsbury House is managed by a for-profit company but the 300+ apartments provide subsidized housing for many of Trenton’s needy families.