We met at an informal meeting to discuss the feasibility and desirability of instituting a new Reform temple… We decided that the need for this temple, both for the community and ourselves, was imminent and necessary.
~ from the minutes of the first meeting of what was to become Congregation Or Ami (May 29, 1972)
Congregation Or Ami began in May of 1972 with six families and a bold idea. The founders agreed on four objectives for their new congregation: 1) An active and involved congregation; 2) An opportunity to experiment with liturgy, which was limited to the Union Prayer Book in virtually all Reform temples at the time; 3) An “intellectually challenging exposure” to Jewish traditions, theologies, and practices; and 4) Religious education for both children and adults.
At its third meeting in July of 1972, the new congregation chose a name for itself at the suggestion of Dr. Alvin Reines of Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati. Thus was Or Ami, “Light of My People,” born.
By the fall of 1972, Congregation Or Ami had thirty families, High Holy Day Services, and a part-time rabbi. Just one year from its creation, Congregation Or Ami had grown sufficiently to hire a full-time rabbi. The Congregation was then ready to expand programming and begin to fulfill its unique place in the Jewish community.
During these early years, the congregation made its temporary home at the Friends Meeting House. In 1979, the Congregation purchased a house on Huguenot Road on the southside of Richmond. The members converted this small house into a cozy synagogue — the first and still only Jewish synagogue south of the James River in Richmond. Because of the space limitations of the “house on the hill” and the expanding membership, the Congregation relied on the Jewish Community Center for its High Holy Day services and life cycle celebrations.
Within ten years of its founding, Congregation Or Ami was still “growing with purpose” and remaining true to its original goals while fitting within a Reform Jewish framework. Congregation Or Ami also made history by hiring a female rabbi as its spiritual leader in 1981. Rabbi Beverly Lerner, who served Congregation Or Ami until 1984, was the first female rabbi to head a Reform congregation in America.
1984 was a significant year for the Congregation, as it was the same year that the State Highway Department finalized plans for a new highway that would cut directly through Or Ami’s property. Congregation Or Ami had to relocate by 1987. In early 1986, the Congregation bought a 3.3 acre lot fronting on Huguenot Road, about one mile south from the house it bought in 1979.
Congregation Or Ami’s new home was completed in late 1987. The newly constructed contemporary facility with its expandable sanctuary, its exposed beams pointing to the ark, its Eternal Light of pottery (made by congregant Joel Moses) and its multi-purpose classrooms was dedicated on December 4, 1987.
During the 1990s, the congregation continued to evolve and grow. In 1995, several members started the Or Ami klezmer band. The band became an ambassador for the congregation and the Jewish community by playing at area synagogues, the Jewish Community Center, and in the wider community at festivals, schools, museums, and libraries.
Over forty years have passed since Congregation Or Ami was founded. The congregation remains faithful to its early roots of creative Judaism, openness, and social action. Congregation Or Ami continues to create and use its own services for Shabbat and Jewish holidays and to provide a forum for highly personalized life cycle events. Or Ami is the only congregation in town where Bar and Bat Mitzvah services are created by the Bar/Bat Mitzvah families themselves with the help of the rabbi. These services include contemporary and traditional elements. We invite you to visit and learn more about our creative, supportive, and dedicated community.