In the beginning, there was a Jewish congregation but no home. The small Orthodox community called themselves the Lovers of Peace, and they wandered – first worshipping in a loft over a store near Market Square and then on Main Street, and then going “from loft to loft, from meeting hall to meeting hall for one and half decades.”
Although they were devout, these early Woonsocket Jews were not wealthy, and try as they might, they could not afford their own worship space. But God works in mysterious ways. And so it came about that in 1904, a vacant old Presbyterian church at 200 Greene Street came on the market, and Congregation B’nai Israel – formerly Congregation of the Lovers of Peace – had its first home.
The squat Queen Anne at the corner of Greene and Bernon streets had, among its selling points, a cavernous room suitable for a sanctuary and just enough room on its tiny lot for a sukkah. Oh, happy days!
The Jewish community of Woonsocket, which numbered 62 in 1900, mustered its meager resources and set about remodeling this old church.
And so it was fitting, when consecration ceremonies were held on July 31, 1904, that “citizens of all faiths were in attendance.”
Irwin Shorr was among the last boys to celebrate his Bar Mitzvah in the building, on Oct. 21, 1961. He recalls the old synagogue as a bustling place where services and special events were frequently held and Jewish holidays were celebrated.
“It was a vibrant Jewish congregation,” Shorr said. “I think at the height of its existence, there were at least 200 Jewish families in Woonsocket.”
As the decades passed, Woonsocket’s Jewish community grew in both numbers and wealth, and in 1962, proudly dedicated its magnificent and architecturally important new shul on Prospect Street.
For the next 40 years or so, the old Queen Anne was sometimes vacant and forlorn and sometimes the home of religious groups, until a theater company took it over. And then, around 2000, Pastor Mike Kropman purchased the building for $30,000 for his Church of the Acts.
Kropman describes his church as nondenominational. Which is why the Star of David carved into the wall above the bimah, the plaque honoring members of the 1904 “Committee on Building,” and the frame of a sturdy sukkah still stand as testament to Woonsocket’s first synagogue.