Beit Ahavah serves a small, yet diverse and inclusive Reform Jewish congregation in the greater Northampton area. Since its inception in 1998, Beit Ahavah has dedicated itself to the search for connection to the spiritual self through worship, study, social justice, and interfaith engagement, and fostering a diverse community spirit.
Now the largest Jewish denomination in America, Reform Judaism represents flexibility and progressivism both in the faith’s practices and in the ways that worshippers navigate the world around them. Using a less rigid interpretation of the Torah, Reform Judaism is more individualistic and designed to help worshippers practice their Jewish faith while also adapting to changes in society throughout time. Part of this willingness to embrace change also means that Reform communities place an emphasis on rationality and science, and they view God’s role in the world as much more continuous and fluid than more conservative Jewish denominations do. Reform communities have existed in the United States since the 19th century, and although there is often much diversity between different Reform synagogues, it is common for Reform congregations, such as the Pioneer Valley’s Beit Ahavah, to undertake liberalism and progressive political activism as part of their role as a religious space.
The history of Beit Ahavah’s worshiping space dates back to much earlier than the formation of their synagogue. The synagogue meets in a joint space, shared with the Florence Congregational Church. While Beit Ahavah formed in 1998, there has been both religious and social justice activity on the grounds of the Florence Congregational Church for over a century. In 1857, Protestants in the area created a religious coalition in Florence and this group began holding gatherings of both a religious and political nature where the Florence Congregational Church rests now.
The religious community that has met at this site has always been dedicated to social justice. Florence was a part of the Underground Railroad, and notably, the abolitionist Sojourner Truth used to preach in the backyard right next to where Beit Ahavah and Florence Congregational Church’s building now rests. The congregation of the Florence Congregational Church has been around longer than Beit Ahavah, as they were a part of organizing for abolition and racial equality during the Civil War era; however, Beit Ahavah’s shares their current commitment to racial justice and equality in general. Although there are other larger synagogues in the Pioneer Valley, Beit Ahavah emphasizes the importance of creating an inclusive religious space for all, especially LGBTQ+ Jews, since the formation of their synagogue.
Recently, the site has undergone renovations and a shift from being purely a house of worship. An Easthampton based performing arts company, Laudable Productions, has now taken ownership of the Florence Congregational Church. The partnership has not only helped the Florence Congregational Church and Beit Ahavah to keep their doors open through the coronavirus of the pandemic, but it has also provided both communities with better equipment to conduct their services. Following over a year of virtual services, Beit Ahavah has returned to the Florence Congregational Church’s sanctuary to hold events again, and will be able to use newly updated audiovisual equipment to put on more musical and interactive programming for their congregation.