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Welcome to Tree of Life

The Tree of Life Congregation (TOL) was founded in 1896, and today is a vibrant Reform Jewish synagogue.  Our 170 member families gather from throughout greater Columbia and the Midlands of SC to come together as a holy community.  The Tree of Life is our Beit T’filah – House of Prayer, Beit Midrash – House of Study, and Beit K’nesset – House of Assembly.  We are very proud of our history, and we look forward to an even brighter future.

Please feel free to join us at Temple for services or events. We look forward to welcoming you. The Tree of Life Congregation is a member of the Union for Reform Judaism (www.urj.org).

Tree of Life Congregation Sign

Please contact the Tree of Life Congregation office for more information or to answer any questions.

TOL Mission Statement

In our devotion to God, the Tree of Life Congregation will be recognized as a synagogue that fully meets the needs of the Reform Jewish community of the Midlands of South Carolina by:

  • Offering pathways for individuals to draw closer to God;
  • Providing a welcoming and inclusive atmosphere for those observing Reform Judaism, and their families, partners, and others;
  • Developing a comprehensive, life-long Jewish education program embodying meaningful, stimulating experiences for all ages;
  • Preserving and celebrating Reform Jewish culture and identity;
  • Cultivating the leadership potential of each congregant;
  • Enjoying ample financial resources to sustain the TOL vision, while exercising fiscal responsibility and sound business practices;
  • Serving as a source of strength and support for each other in times of need;
  • Working as advocates for Reform Judaism to the community-at-large;
  • Demonstrating Jewish consciousness through empathy and social action.

Columbia Jewish History

A synagogue, or temple, is a house of worship, a place of learning and a center for Jewish communal programs. It is the true focal point of Jewish life. The synagogue has existed for more than 2,500 years and is the first known institution involving communal prayer.

Jews have lived in South Carolina from the earliest days of the Carolina Colony. The Jews of Charleston founded one of the New World’s earliest synagogues, Kahal Kadosh Beth Elohim, in 1749, and it remains today the oldest continuously operated synagogue in North America. Jews came to the Columbia area in the late eighteenth century and by 1822 had organized the Hebrew Burial Society, which continues to this day as the Hebrew Benevolent Society at the same location across from Finlay Park. Columbia’s Jewish community founded the nation’s seventh Jewish religious school in 1843 and the city’s first synagogue, Shearith Israel (Remnant of Israel), three years later.

The early Jewish community of Columbia played an active part in the development and growth of the city. Two prominent members of the Jewish community, Dr. Mordecai Hendricks De Leon and Mr. Henry Lyons, were elected mayors of Columbia before the Civil War, and Jews were leaders in the city’s business and professional life. By the year 1830, Columbia’s highly educated and prosperous Jewish community represented the highest ratio of Jews to the total population of any city in the United States.

The tragic burning of Columbia on the Sabbath evening of February 17, 1865 brought an end to the vibrant early Jewish community of Columbia. In the course of the fire, which engulfed downtown Columbia, the synagogue on Assembly Street and most of the Jewish businesses were destroyed. A majority of Columbia’s Jewish community left the city shortly after the war to seek greater opportunities elsewhere.

By the 1890’s, a new wave of Jewish immigrants, mostly eastern Europeans, had arrived in Columbia. On January 15, 1896, a group of eighteen members of the Jewish community met in city hall chambers and organized the Tree of Life Congregation. Shortly after its organization, Tree of Life affiliated with the Reform branch of Judaism, an affiliation which continues to this day.

Mon, December 5 2022 11 Kislev 5783