Kempsville Synagogue uses UJFT grant to upgrade communications

by | Feb 8, 2013 | Uncategorized

Charles Firestone, founding member and past president of Kempsville Conservative Synagogue, and Harvey Eluto, co-president.

Charles Firestone, founding member and past president of Kempsville Conservative Synagogue, and Harvey Eluto, co-president.

Long before the Sandler Family Campus opened, in the days when there was no “Town Center” or even Lynnhaven Mall, Jewish families living in central Virginia Beach had a choice to make if they wanted to go to shul: they could drive to Norfolk, or they could drive to the Oceanfront.

That changed in the early to mid 1970s with the establishment of two small synagogues in the Kempsville area, the congregations meeting wherever they could find space. Later in that decade, the two temples merged, affiliated with the Conservative movement and became Kehillat Bet Hamidrash, now known as Kempsville Conservative Synagogue.

The synagogue built a permanent structure at 952 Indian Lakes Blvd. in 1989, where its congregants continue to meet for services and functions. Kempsville Conservative Synagogue has a membership of about 50 families; most are still residents of the Kempsville area.

“We’re like Cheers,” says Charles Firestone, a founding member and former president of the temple. “We’re small, intimate and everyone knows everyone’s name. No one is a stranger here and everyone is welcome. We don’t turn anyone away.”

Firestone says Kempsville Synagogue is an all-volunteer shul. Cantor David Proser conducts services and administers religious rites; other members are also capable of leading. Keeping relevant is not a problem for the synagogue; its small but steadfast roster of members includes descendants of its founders, as well as new Jewish families to the central section of Virginia Beach.

Keeping current, however, had proven more difficult, particularly in the realm of computers and communication. Until recently, the synagogue was using computer software designed for Windows 95. The software was unusable with new printers, could only backup to a 3.5 inch disk, couldn’t run on newer operating systems, and occasionally suffered from database corruptions that required manual reconstructions.

With grant funding received from the Synagogue-Federation Partnership of the Tidewater Jewish Community, supported by the United Jewish Federation of Tidewater, the Tidewater Jewish Foundation and the Simon Family Foundation, Kempsville Conservative Synagogue has been able to begin essential upgrades.

“Until now, it’s all been kind of piecemeal,” says Harvey Eluto, a co-president of the synagogue. “This upgrade enables us to be a lot more efficient and effective, and right now we’re in the process of designing a new website and are very excited about it.”

Eluto says the growing relationship between Kempsville Conservative Synagogue, other area synagogues and the UJFT is a positive step forward for the Jewish population of Tidewater. Eluto and Firestone say they are grateful for the upgrades made possible through the Synagogue-Federation grant, and also for many of the community-building efforts being put forth.

“I’m very optimistic that all of the work being undertaken [by the Partnership] will revive us and let us grow as a community, and it will allow all of our Jewish organizations to thrive, and survive,” Eluto says.

With its programming partner, Norfolk’s Temple Israel, Kempsville Conservative Synagogue is hosting an educational series with Rabbi Michael Panitz, American Jews in Time of War. At 7:30 pm on Tuesday, Feb. 12 (Civil War), Tuesday, Feb. 19 (World War II), and Tuesday, Feb. 26 (Vietnam War). Free and open to the community. For more information on this series, services, and upcoming events, call 757-495-8510, or visit

by Laine M. Rutherford