About Congregation Bayt Shalom
Our congregation, the first in Greenville NC, was founded in 1975. At the onset it was established as a conservative congregation (an alternative to the reform congregation in Kinston NC approximately 30 minutes away). In spite of the conservative charter, there was a reconstructionist rabbi leading the congregation over 20 years ago for a short period of time. Rabbi Michael Cain, a conservative rabbi, led the congregation for 18 years until his retirement in January 2007. We amended our constitution in 2007 and became dually affiliated with URJ and USCJ to better represent our community’s demographics. We were led 2007 – 2009 by Rabbi Steven Kirschner (ordained at the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College). Rabbi Alysa Stanton (ordained at Hebrew Union College) served our congregation as our Rabbi from August 2009 – July 2011. Rabbi Nicole Luna (ordained from Hebrew Union College) led our congregation from July 2011 to July 2016. Most recently, Rabbi Harley Karz-Wagman (Ordained from Hebrew Union College) has led our congregation from August 2016 and has elected to finish his contract ending in June 2023.
Greenville/Pitt County is a growing area of approximately 152,000 in eastern North Carolina. In many ways it is the "capital" of the Eastern region. North Carolina, east of Interstate 95, is a mostly rural area. Greenville and Wilmington (2 hours away) are the 2 largest communities east of 95. Greenville is home to East Carolina University, which is the third largest campus of the University of North Carolina university system (UNC Chapel Hill and NC State are larger) with over 28,000 students and growing! The university has undergraduate and graduate programs, sports, arts, theater, music, etc. The performing arts program is highly regarded and there are School of Music faculty and student recitals several times each week. There is a Performing Arts Series that brings in traveling shows. Greenville is also home to Pitt Community College. The city's economy is largely driven by the university (whose enrollment has grown significantly) and ECU Medical Center (which continues to grow exponentially). In 2008 the medical center opened a several hundred thousand square foot cardiovascular center, the hospital has expanded clinical and research space with new buildings, has expanded the medical school, and has a growing School of Dental Medicine. The hospital has become the regional tertiary care center and a level 1 trauma center for a 29 county area east of I-95. An industrial park is home to several national and international companies. The growth has been, and continues to be, phenomenal! The beaches of NC are a short (1.5 hour) drive east of us. Raleigh is just over an hour drive west of us.
The diversity of our Jewish community is reflected in our membership; we have members who identify with Conservative Judaism, Reform Judaism, and Reconstructionist Judaism. We view our diversity as an asset and a challenge! We have much more in common than we have differences.
We take pride in the fact that our congregation, though small, has had a full-time rabbi for much of its existence. We have a fantastic religious school (Sunday and Wednesday) with all volunteer (small stipend) teachers (except the rabbi). Our students are comfortable being on the Bima, and our B'nai Mitzvah youth do an outstanding job leading services. Our post B'nai Mitzvah youth volunteer as "Madrachim" at religious school. We have an active sisterhood (book club, dinners, etc). We have a reinvigorated adult education and Torah study group. We have a spirit of community volunteerism that involves adults and children (they currently serve dinner at the homeless shelter on a regular basis). We accomplish much with limited resources – of this we are proud!
Our building is paid for in-full, and we have a beautiful sanctuary with stained glass doors on the ark (designed by a former congregant). Several years ago we installed a playground. The building’s parcel of land has plenty of room for future expansion.
Greenville is a friendly community. A significant percentage of the local population and Jewish population are “transplants” from other areas of the country. The common refrain is: “life is easy here.” The cost of living is low, there is minimal traffic, people are friendly and polite, the winter is short, recreational opportunities are abundant, and we have a wonderful Jewish community that is poised for growth.
Like much of the south, there is a large Baptist presence here. The non-Jewish community has always embraced us and been supportive of our presence here. Our rabbis have been consistent members of the Interfaith Alliance. The local Christian population is generally curious about Judaism. There have been no acts of anti-semitism.
Our perpetual challenge is to unite a diverse community and reach out to unaffiliated Jews. We would like to promote Bayt Shalom as the center of Jewish community where we congregate: to study, pray, celebrate, and socialize together. This community would be an ideal match for a hands-on rabbi seeking a smaller community, one in which the opportunity exists to know all congregants and their children intimately, to perform pastoral services, and to be directly involved in education. We expect that our membership will grow in the coming years due to Greenville's growth. We are hopeful that our next pulpit leader will have an engaging personality and the ability to "tickle" the spirituality of our diverse community