Our History

Origins of Beth Hillel Congregation

In the mid-1950s, young Jewish families began moving to the western part of Wilmette, Illinois. In February 1958, 25 families met and discussed establishing a synagogue in the community. They determined by majority vote the affiliation of the synagogue would be Conservative. On April 16, 1958, Beth Hillel was formally established, with Rabbi Louis H. Lieberworth as its spiritual leader. The Village of Wilmette and its many affiliates were delighted to help us. In fact, the first High Holiday services were held in the Wilmette Women’s Club. In late 1958, our religious school began using space at the Highcrest School. Beth Hillel purchased the open land at Big Tree Lane and officially broke ground for the synagogue’s school building in August 1961. The formal dedication was in March 1963. Eight years later, Beth Hillel’s sanctuary building was constructed, and our home was now complete.

We’ve been blessed by many gifted rabbis and cantors over the past 60+ years. Rabbi Allan D. Kensky arrived in Wilmette before the High Holidays of 2002 following 11 years as dean of the Jewish Theological Seminary’s  Rabbinical School in New York City. Upon his retirement, he was succeeded by Rabbi Anne Tucker in July 2013. Rabbi Kensky remains an integral part of the Beth Hillel Bnai Emunah community as its revered rabbi emeritus. Cantor Pavel Roytman officially joined the synagogue as our hazzan in late 2010.

Interested in learning about Beth Hillel’s history? Click here to review our timeline.

Click here for “A Synagogue Blooms Where Once Was a Wilderness”: Beth Hillel’s Formative Years (1958-1973)

Origins of Congregation Bnai Emunah

During the early 1950s, Jewish veterans from Chicago’s west side moved north of the city limits seeking moderately priced housing. Several Jewish families came together and in 1953 formed a charter for a new congregation to be known initially as Congregation Bnai Emunah of Lincolnwood. After meeting in congregants’ homes for a time, they purchased the property at Niles Center Road and Church Street in Skokie. A day care center and three storefronts co-existed on the property until 1964, when the main sanctuary and classrooms were built. Rabbi Harold Stern, z’l was spiritual leader from 1959-91. Rabbi Michael Laxmeter served as rabbi from 1993-04. In its heyday in the late 1970s, more than 950 families were members at Congregation Bnai Emunah, and its Hebrew School educated more than 1,000 area students.

The synagogue distinguished itself in Skokie’s Jewish community. For example, it was the first U.S. congregation to formally establish a blood bank for its members. In June 2004, Bnai Emunah combined with Beth Hillel thereby establishing one new congregation in Chicago’s north suburbs, Beth Hillel Bnai Emunah.