In the spring of 1995 fifteen families joined together to start a new congregation on the North Shore of Chicago. These families had been meeting informally for a number of years under the leadership of Rabbi Samuel Gordon. Originally they came together as a support group for intermarried couples with young children, but soon families consisting of two Jewish partners joined the group as well. The founding principles were that children and parents would learn together, formal worship was often replaced by shared Shabbat meals, and that discussions and learning would be at the highest intellectual level – always stimulating, provocative, and challenging.
By the fall of 1995 approximately one hundred people came to the Wilmette Junior High School for our first High Holy Day services. Family School began at the same time. As word spread, more and more families sought to join this innovative community that welcomed diversity and responded in new ways to ancient traditions. Soon Judy Buckman joined the congregation as executive director, and under her leadership the program of service to our members continued to expand.
In the early years worship was held at the Community Recreation Center, other park district buildings, various women’s clubs, and even in private homes. It soon became clear that we wanted sacred space in which to join in prayer. First at the Wilmette Community Church, and then at First Congregational Church of Wilmette, we were welcomed by our neighbors to share their sanctuaries and now we have our own sacred space open to all. Sukkat Shalom continues to work closely with the diverse faith communities of Wilmette to create a culture of mutual respect and understanding. Our congregation is proud to take a leading role in insuring that Jews, Christians, Muslims, and Bahai can join together in education, spiritual growth, and social justice.
As Sukkat Shalom has grown certain key values have remained a vital part of our mission. We remain a small and intimate congregation in which the senior staff knows each member, and there is a sense of family and community. Life long learning is a defining element of our program and involves all members of all age groups. Worship is dynamic and inspiring. We recognize and celebrate that we all come from diverse religious backgrounds but share an authentic quest for spiritual meaning and depth within the world of modern Judaism.