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Documented Jewish presence in Kingston dates from the middle of the 19th century. Among the earliest arrivals were the brothers Joseph and Abraham Nordheimer who later moved to Toronto. They remain known among pianists and musicians for promoting music and producing the high quality Nordheimer pianos.
Simon Oberndorffer came to Kingston, via New York, in 1857. He started a cigar factory and became one of the main founders of the Orthodox Beth Israel Congregation in 1908.
Until 1960, the vast majority of the congregants were merchants or businessmen from Central and Eastern Europe.
During the 1960's, however, the expansion of Canadian universities attracted numerous Jewish academics to Queen's University at Kingston. Within a short fifteen years, Beth Israel's composition changed to a bimodal membership: the old-timers/merchants and the newcomers/academics-professionals.
In 1975, the strain of accommodating to such a rapid and drastic change brought about the split of the membership into the Orthodox Beth Israel Congregation and Iyr-Ha-Melech, the Reform Congregation.
In 2012, the members of Beth Israel voted overwhelmingly to become a Conservative Congregation and began the process of change of ritual and principles with the hiring of Rabbi Shalom Plotkin. Rabbi Plotkin received his ordination at the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York.
Today, Beth Israel remains an umbrella synagogue which welcomes and accommodates members whose orientations range from Agnostic to Orthodox.