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Faith in the Fox Cities

Photography by Graham Washatka, Graham Images and Photography 

Six faith communities kindly and bravely opened their doors, offering us a look at some of their most sacred moments. They represent the vibrant and complex tapestry of philosophies that exist in the Fox Cities. While we have barely scratched the surface of our religious landscape, the glimpses of God encountered at each place of worship are inspiration to keep digging.

Moses Montefiore Congregation, Appleton

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The congregation at Moses Montefiore Congregation became officially organized in 1903 and today is made up of about 60 member families. President Jerry Zabronsky says a local survey concluded there are roughly 500 Jewish residents living in Brown, Outagamie and Winnebago counties. Services at Moses Montefiore are held on Friday evenings and Saturday mornings in observance of the Sabbath which occurs sundown on Friday until sundown on Saturday.

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Jewish children usually start attending Hebrew school in third grade to learn the Hebrew language and Jewish history.

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In the image above, Rivka Littman teaches children songs in preparation for Hanukkah which celebrates the Jewish victory over the Greeks in the Maccabean Revolt and the rededication of the Holy Temple. This year, the “Festival of Lights” begins on the evening of December 12 and continues for eight days.

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Four large plaques hang on the walls inside the synagogue. The plaques are made of many smaller plaques, each representing a deceased synagogue member or relative of a synagogue member. The deceased are memorialized on the anniversary of their death by lighting the bulb next to their name. “Each week we light the ones for the coming week and we’re doing it today because Sabbath just ended yesterday. These will stay on until next Sunday,” Zabronsky says.

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Finding commonalities:

“The biggest reaction you get when you tell someone you’re Jewish is just shock, but not necessarily bad shock. I guess I don’t look like a typical Jew. As a Jew you’d say, ‘What does that even mean?’ I feel like I look like a typical Wisconsinite, right? … Most people just want to know how the things that are important in their lives would fit into a Jewish person’s life. In some cases, not at all. But in other cases, we are living the same life they are.” — Eric Wolfe, Chairman of the Board of Trustees.

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Choosing a religious path:

“I had a wonderful high school Latin teacher. He really gave us a deep love of things that were ancient and a lot about religion in a very general kind of way. Interestingly, my dad is an engineer and it was through the sciences that we dealt with a lot of questions about infinity, eternity and evolution, all those things that get you thinking about the mystery of being a person. That was the soup from which my interest in being a rabbi arose.” — Rabbi Kenneth Katz

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