Congregation Or Shalom – Decades in the Making

Editor’s Note: Over the next few issues The Orange Times will be profiling the Houses of Worship in Town. {{more}}There are 10 such institutions and we will begin with the lead clergy who compile the town’s Interfaith Clergy Group that works together on coordinating interfaith events such as the Scholar in Residence program held in the Spring, the Community Interfaith Thanksgiving Service and special events such as the vigil for Sandy Hook.

Congregation Or Shalom is an egalitarian Conservative synagogue, drawn to tradition as well as aspiring to innovation with 300 families in its membership from many towns in the area besides Orange, including Woodbridge, Bethany, Milford, West Haven, New Haven, Stratford and the valley communities.

Or Shalom’s spiritual leader is Rabbi Alvin Wainhaus. He has been at Or Shalom since 1982.

Or Shalom is really three synagogues. Founded in 1971 by a group of Jewish families who had been meeting for worship at the American Legion Hall and in homes until the Old Grassy Hill Road building became available. It had been owned by the Church of the Nazarene. However it became defunct in the 60s and the building was sold to the synagogue.

Ten years later Temple B’nai Shalom of Milford joined the growing Jewish family. In 1983, the name was changed to Congregation Or Shalom, which in Hebrew means Light of Peace.

In 1986, the former Milford building was sold and an addition was made to the Old Grassy Hill Road building doubling its size.

In 1997, Temple Beth Israel of Derby joined with Congregation Or Shalom.

Wainhaus, the son of Holocaust survivors, said he was raised in an Orthodox environment in Brooklyn.

He said his family and neighborhood spoke Yiddish.

“I was raised in a ghetto. I broke from orthodox when I was 20,” Wainhaus said.

“I wandered and came back to Judaism in its modern form,” he said.

While wandering he produced several Jewish/Hebrew records.

Wainhaus is a graduate of Brooklyn College with a degree in philosophy. He earned a Master of Education degree from New York University and was ordained at Yeshiva Beth Meir of Tel Aviv in 1972.

He served congregations in Yarmouth, Nova Scotia and Manhattan before becoming Congregation Or Shalom’s first and only rabbi.

He has two children: Maya, a graduate of Barnard College, and Rafi, a graduate of Green Mountain College in Vermont.

Or Shalom offers a variety of services to its congregants.

In addition to being a house of worship, one can study the Jewish heritage, participate in meetings, and get involved in various causes.

Or Shalom hosts an Annual Kristallnacht program the first Sunday in November commemorating “the night of broken glass,” which is noted as the beginning of the Holocaust. Each Wednesday, from November through March, Wainhaus holds his class, “Coffee & Learn” where he addresses interesting and hot topics linking the bible to common day issues.

Each month the Social Action Committee chooses a different charity to raise funds or have a collection for such as the Diaper Bank, New Haven Reads-New Haven Book Bank, Downtown Evening Soup Kitchen and the Jewish Family Service Food Bank.

The Teen Tech club offers computer related services to the members of the Orange Senior Center.

There is a Ritual committee which plans for holidays, and there is a Sisterhood and Men’s Club. Sisterhood offers many of its own programs including “Martinis and Mah Jong” and the Men’s Club’s annual program is the disbursement of yellow candles for Yom Hashoah, Holocaust Remembrance Day.

To learn more about Congregation Or Shalom visit or call 203- 799-2341.