Prior to the 20th century, the city of Ann Arbor, Mich. had few formal establishments in which Jewish families could worship or study. It was not until 1916, with the leadership and innovation of Philip Lansky, Osias Zwerdling, and other members of the Ann Arbor Jewish community that the first formal Jewish congregation in Ann Arbor was formed. Two years later, in 1918, the Beth Israel Congregation was officially established with the original leadership consisting of Osias Zwerdling (President), Israel Friedman (Vice-President), William Beutler (or Bittker) (Secretary-Treasurer), Philip Lansky (Trustee), David Friedman (Trustee), and David Mordsky (Trustee).
In 1951 the congregation acquired a new constitution and changed its name to the Beth Israel Community Center. But services continued to be held in the homes of congregation members or at locations in and around the Ann Arbor area. Finally, in 1952 Beth Israel signed a 99-year lease with the B'nai B'rith Hillel Foundation for the purpose of sharing a space at 1429 Hill Street in Ann Arbor.
As the size of the congregation grew, so did the need for more space. In 1962 the Center purchased the 2006 Washtenaw Avenue location and remained there until 1965 when they moved to 2010 Washtenaw Avenue. During that period the administrative board also re-amended the constitution, thus restoring the original name--Beth Israel Congregation.
Throughout the 1970's, as the congregation steadily increased in size and function, there was yet a need for more space. As a result, in 1977 the site at 2000 Washtenaw Avenue was acquired and on March 25, 1979 this location was officially dedicated as the congregation's home.
The Beth Israel Congregation is more than just a religious entity. Within its 100 plus year history Beth Israel has remained an advocate for social change, particularly on issues relating to religious and cultural freedom, racism, and sexism. Also found within the collection are select materials reflecting the congregation's progressive attitude regarding women in leadership positions. The latter is evidenced through the establishment of the Beth Israel Sisterhood and the leadership of Gerda Seligson, the first woman in the United States to be elected president of a conservative Jewish congregation.