DISCOVER THE HISTORY
B'nai Israel is an active synagogue and living history museum located in Council Bluffs, Iowa. It was first listed on the National Register of Historic Places under its original name, Chevra B'nai Yisroel Synagogue, in 2007.
The first Jewish community in Council Bluffs was an Orthodox congregation, founded in 1881, named Bikur Cholim. It had 25 charter members, with neither a rabbi nor a synagogue building. Services were held in rented facilities. Chevra B’nai Yisroel Congregation was organized in 1903 with 14 adult male members. They acquired the present property and a built a frame synagogue the following year.
On March 5, 1930, the building was destroyed in a fire. Members from the congregation saved the Torah, sacred scrolls, and other religious items. A building committee was formed and plans were made for a new synagogue. Architect J. Chris Jensen was chosen to design the new building. The cornerstone from the former synagogue was recovered and was etched with an inscription for the new building. The new synagogue, completed on January 11, 1931, seats 500 and was built for $26,000.
The congregation continued to grow and, after World War II, changed from Orthodox to Conservative Judaism. English was now used in services and men and women could sit together. Previously the women and children sat in the balcony. The congregation officially changed its name to B'nai Israel in November 1953. An addition was designed by I.T. Carrithers in the early 1960s to add more space to the front and back of the older building. Only the back addition was built.
B’nai Israel changed its name when it moved to the Mynster Street site. The original name was Chevra B’nai Yisroel. From its founding, the synagogue was the center of the Council Bluffs Jewish community, both as a house of worship and a community center. Many of our ancestors celebrated their life cycle events, holidays, held volunteer activities, and supported the causes of the day at the synagogue.