B'nai Sholom Congregation
The B'nai Shalom Congregation is the Jewish synagogue-community serving the Bristol, Kingsport, Johnson City triangle of upper East Tennessee. Since it is the only organized body of Jewry in the larger triangle formed by Roanoke, Virginia on the North, Asheville, North Carolina to the south and east, and Knoxville, Tennessee to the south and west, it serves a diverse Orthodox, Conservative, and Reform constituency.
The origins of the community date to the turn of the twentieth century when Nathan and Minnie Stern settled in Bristol in 1884 and Herman Hecht settled there in 1894. Nephews of S. A. Gump settled in Johnson City in 1892, followed by Benjamin Thorys in 1902, and Ben Zion Heller in 1903.
The Jews gathered for public worship as early as 1904, but the King Street Temple, their first synagogue located at King and Second Streets in Bristol, was not completed until September 9, 1927. The congregation was notified in December, 1952, that the King Street property was in the line of a proposed through-way. The congregation made immediate plans to relocate to a more centralized location in the Tri-City area. On May 18, 1958, the congregation dedicated newly acquired property in Blountville, Tennessee, the Armand Hecht, Community Center (in memory of Armand Hecht a leader in the Jewish community), and all services were held at the center by June 1960.
Ideologically, B'nai Sholom Congregation is a Conservative-Reform mixture. Rabbi Isadore Franzblau, the congregation's first permanent rabbi (hired in May 1946), introduced the Reform liturgy (Union Prayer Book) and other liberal Jewish practices. Following Franzblau's departure in 1953, the congregation followed Conservative leadership from 1953-1970 (from rabbis Guttman to Duchon) and joined the United Synagogue of America, the national association of Conservative Synagogues. Duchon served as B'nai Sholom's last permanent rabbi when the Reform constituency saw to the acquisition of a student-rabbi from Hebrew Union College, the Reform seminary in Cincinnati, Ohio. To this form of leadership the congregation still adheres.
Information for this sketch was taken from E. A. Siegel's, A History of the B'nai Sholom Congregation, a thesis presented to Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, 1972.