A new light in Baton Rouge as merged congregation announces name

A new light is shining in Baton Rouge with the merger of the community’s two Reform congregations.

On Jan. 10, Or Chadash, “a new light,” was announced as the name for the congregation, which had been going by Unified Jewish Congregation of Baton Rouge as the members voted on the new name.

The name was originally going to be announced on Jan. 9 at the joint congregation’s first annual meeting, but the meeting was postponed due to the Covid resurgence. When the meeting does take place, fig trees will be planted, Torah scrolls will be exchanged, and there will be a champagne toast.

The merger is the culmination of a process that has been discussed for years by members of B’nai Israel and Beth Shalom, but especially over the last two years. Both congregations approved the merger in August, and it became official on Jan. 1.

Two of the top four choices that emerged from the first round of voting for the new name were combinations of the previous names, Beth Israel and B’nai Shalom. The others were Gesher, which means bridge, and Or Chadash, which won “by an overwhelming margin.”

The new congregation’s logo had already been revealed as a braided candle with a flame in the shape of the Hebrew letter “shin,” as found on the mezuzah.

In the statement announcing the new name, the congregational leadership said “With the choice of our new name, Or Chadash, we are adding an essential ingredient to creating inspirational religious experiences, and exciting and meaningful programs, turning a paper entity into a living and breathing community. We all chose the path of a unified congregation because we believe that the new community we are building together will be a source of light and joy to our families, our extended community and future generations.”

The plan is for the new congregation to expand the existing Kleinert Avenue location that was home to B’nai Israel and eventually sell the Jefferson Highway property of Beth Shalom, once the preschool has its new home. The goal is to have the facilities completed by the High Holy Days in 2023.

A rabbinic search committee is already interviewing candidates. Rabbis Batsheva Appel and Teri Appleby were brought on specifically to serve the two congregations as they navigated the transition process.

Shabbat evening services are alternating between locations, with services on Jan. 7 and 21 at Jefferson Highway, and Jan. 14 and 28 at Kleinert Avenue. Shabbat mornings, there is a 10 a.m. minyan at Kleinert Avenue and a 10:30 a.m. service at Jefferson Highway.