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About Us

Founded in 2004 and located in the Ozark Mountains in Northwest Arkansas, Congregation Etz Chaim is made up of families with diverse Jewish backgrounds with common goals and ideals. We offer a variety of programs, schooling, Torah study, services, and a Jewish Community.

The members of Congregation Etz Chaim pride themselves on creating a safe and comfortable place for any Jew no matter their background to participate, grow, learn, or just relax and enjoy being Jewish. CEC is unaffiliated, which enables us to meet the varied needs of Jews in our tight-knit community.

Our Goals

To enhance the meaning of our lives as Jews, we strive to foster the reciprocal connections between the synagogue and its congregants. Children, adults, individuals and families come together to create a multigenerational community participating in religious and social activities, lifelong Jewish learning and the larger Jewish community.

Congregation Etz Chaim offers a Jewish foundation and “home” for individuals and families within Northwest Arkansas and neighboring communities. We are fully committed to a policy of welcoming anyone into synagogue life and our community regardless of gender, marital status, race, age, sexual orientation or economic circumstances. We are committed to foster an environment that is a caring, multigenerational, and inclusive.

We encourage social responsibility. The performance of Mitzvot is an integral part of our Jewish lives and spiritual fulfillment — within our community and by outreach to others.

Our History

Congregation Etz Chaim was founded on Aug. 4, 2004, by 12 families who met on July 13, 2004, in a home in Rogers, Ark., to discuss the feasibility of such a task. The group with common goals and diverse talents was able to quickly establish meeting places, clergy, religious school and overall financial obligations. Once formed, the group quickly grew within six months to 32 families. On March 24, 2005, Congregation Etz Chaim’s 32 families purchased a small church on the corner of Moberly Road and Central Avenue in Bentonville, Ark., and converted it into the first synagogue in Benton County and said to be the first newly established synagogue in a rural southern community in more than 50 years.

In 2014, after our building flooded, we were graciously hosted by WaterWay (First Christian Church) who opened their home so we could have one.  Their generosity was very much appreciated until we moved out to our current space in 2019.  We now reside on Walton Blvd in a small, but welcoming space we can call our own.

Jewish History in Arkansas

Excerpt from Encyclopedia of Arkansas

Jews have always been a tiny minority of Arkansas’s population, yet their history in the state is long and deeply rooted.  The first Jew to settle in Arkansas was Abraham Block, who opened a store in Washington (Hempstead County) by 1825.

Arkansas Jews began to form religious institutions soon after they began arriving in significant numbers. In 1839, the small but growing number of Jews in Little Rock began to worship together. It was not until 1866 that the state’s first Jewish congregation, B’nai Israel in Little Rock, was chartered. Soon after, a spate of congregations was formed in the state, reflecting how widely Jews had settled in Arkansas. In 1867, Congregation Anshe Emeth of Pine Bluff and Temple Beth El of Helena (Phillips County) were founded. Congregations were also founded in Camden (Ouachita County) in 1869, Hot Springs (Garland County) in 1875, Texarkana (Miller County) in 1884, Jonesboro in 1896, Newport (Jackson County) in 1901, Dermott (Chicot County) in 1905, Eudora (Chicot County) in 1912, Osceola (Mississippi County) in 1913, Forrest City (St. Francis County) in 1914, Wynne (Cross County) in 1915, Marianna (Lee County) in 1920, Blytheville (Mississippi County) in 1923, El Dorado (Union County) in 1926, McGehee (Desha County) in 1947, Fayetteville (Washington County) in 1981, and Bentonville in 2004.

When the first rabbi settled in Arkansas in the 1870s, state law required that a minister be Christian to officiate at a wedding. After a lobbying effort by Arkansas Jews, the legislature amended the law to include rabbis. This established a tradition of welcoming Jews into the civic life of the state. 

In 1937, the year of the most comprehensive study of the country’s Jewish population, 6,510 Jews lived in seventy-two Arkansas towns. Little Rock had the largest community, with 2,500 Jews, while thirty-seven towns had ten or fewer. In the second half of the twentieth century, the state’s Jewish population steadily decreased. By 2008, an estimated 1,725 Jews lived in the state. Congregations in Helena, Blytheville, and El Dorado had closed, while others struggled to survive. The Jewish population has become concentrated in a few communities such as Little Rock, Hot Springs, Fayetteville, Fort Smith and Bentonville. In 1937, thirteen cities in Arkansas had more than fifty Jews. In 2008, only five did. As of 2008, only congregations in Little Rock and Bentonville had full-time rabbis.

Bentonville has been an exception to the downward trend. In the twenty-first century, as Walmart Inc. has encouraged major suppliers to open offices in its corporate hometown, Bentonville has seen its Jewish population skyrocket. In 2004, a dozen Jews founded Bentonville’s first Jewish congregation, Etz Chaim, which quickly became the state’s fastest-growing congregation, hiring its first full-time rabbi in 2006. Most of the founding members of Etz Chaim are not Arkansas natives. Unlike the peddlers and merchants who initially settled in Arkansas, these twenty-first-century migrants are executives at large corporations. They represent the generation of Jewish professionals who have largely replaced the Jewish merchant class in the South’s metropolitan areas.

With this tremendous growth in Bentonville, the state’s Jewish population likely will remain steady, though small Jewish congregations and communities will continue to decline. Many Jewish children raised in Arkansas do not return home after college; they seek greater economic opportunity elsewhere, the same impulse that brought Jews to Arkansas in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

Tue, May 17 2022 16 Iyar 5782