A Brief History
The present-day Congregation Or Shalom is the incarnation of several synagogues representing over one hundred years of Jewish history in this region of Connecticut. Jewish immigrants from Europe began settling in the Naugatuck Valley in the early 1900's arriving via the Ellis Island "route".
Several synagogues were established in Ansonia and Derby and the Jewish community of the Valley grew larger and prospered. Eventually, over the years, after a series of mergers, one large congregation was established in 1958 to server the entire Valley – the Beth Israel Synagogue Center in Derby. There were major building expansions in 1958 and 1974.
Meanwhile, Jews began arriving in Milford first as summer tourists and then later as full-time residents in the 1920's and 1930's. The Milford Jewish Community Club was established in 1930 with a mandate – "for the advancement of Jewish principles and welfare". A building was erected on Noble Avenue in 1948 when the name was changed to the Milford Jewish Center. The first full-time rabbi arrived in 1952 and ground was broken for an addition for classrooms.
Nine years later the congregation took the name Temple B'nai Shalom and in two more years the Sisterhood was formed and the synagogue became affiliated with the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism. A new sanctuary was completed in May 1969. By this time, the synagogue had a Hebrew School, very active Kadima & USY chapters and a highly-regarded nursery school – The Little White House.
In 1960, a small group of Jewish families living in Orange formed the Orange Jewish Community Center Association with the ultimate goal of organizing a synagogue in Orange. The Association quickly grew to more than 60 families with High Holiday services held in borrowed space and regular Shabbat services in the homes of the members. The lack of a Hebrew school led many members to drift away to other synagogues and finally the congregation became dormant. When a new congregation formed in Orange a few years later, the Trustees of the original Association voted to dissolve and turn over most of its assets to the new congregation.
On January 11, 1970, several Jewish families living in Orange got together at Marty Schulman's house and formed a new congregation, the Orange Synagogue Center, with a statement of purpose including a desire for "a place where Jewish people can meet regularly, can pray and learn together and continue our rich heritage". The congregation rented the American Legion Hall for services. In 1971, a few members found out that the recently built, but hardly used, Church of the Nazarene, located at 205 Old Grassy Hill Road, was for sale.
Money was quickly raised for a down payment and the congregation purchased the building in September 1971. The original building consisted of the present-day sanctuary, the downstairs social hall and about a third of the offices upstairs. Alan Lovins served as a part-time rabbi in the early years. In 1975, Rabbi Wayne Franklin assumed the position as the congregation's full-time rabbi. The first eleven years of the synagogue saw the congregation grow from a handful of families to more than 100 members.
The 1970's saw a rapid decline in the Jewish population in Milford. A merger partner was sought and the Orange Synagogue Center seemed like a perfect fit. Negotiations on a merger began in 1980 and in the Spring of 1981, the membership of the two congregations approved a merger agreement creating a new congregation that was initially called Temple B'nai Shalom/Orange Synagogue center. Also in 1981, Rabbi Franklin announced his intention to the leave the congregation, so a search committee was formed to look for a new rabbi. It was this committee chaired by Marty Schulman that selected a 32 year-old from New York as the newly-merged congregation's first, and so far the only, Rabbi – Alvin Wainhaus.
The new congregation with the new rabbi started out with 186 families but saw a rapid increase in membership during the 1980's and 1990's. The Rabbi has joked that it used to take a minute to answer the phone because of the large cumbersome name. A new name was sought and, in 1983, the synagogue became Congregation Or Shalom (Light of Peace in Hebrew).
The 1980's and 1990's also saw a rapid decline in the Jewish population of the Valley, in 1996, Beth Israel Synagogue Center of Derby began merger negotiations with Or Shalom and in July 1997, the merger became effective. Thanks to the inspiring leadership of Rabbi Alvin Wainhaus and active lay leadership,
Congregation Or Shalom in 2016 has a membership of more than 288 families. May we continue to grow and prosper and stay true to our two guiding principles: to serve as a vibrant center for the practice and teaching of Conservative Judaism; and to create a spiritual and social atmosphere in which congregants feel part of a larger synagogue family.