Proud to be known as the heart of the Illinois Bible Belt, the residents of Mattoon fill dozens of Christian churches. Theres also one Jewish congregation, which has the distinction of being the smallest Reform synagogue in North America. The membership? Four households.
The Mattoon Jewish Community Center isnt a center at all but a group of dedicated congregants who meet in Trinity Episcopal Church. Even at Yom Kippur — the holiest of Holy Days, when this week synagogues in Chicago were packed — the worshippers at this prairie outpost strained to hit double digits.
One of my favorite family members lives south of Mattoon. Aside from occasional visits home, she rarely gets to attend services or events in her Jewish heritage. It’s kind of sad and frustrating; she was raised in a Jewish home but was never able to participate fully in all the milestone events, other than as an observer.
There’s no way she could travel to Mattoon to attend the occasional Sabbath service; the logistics just don’t work. But it was interesting to read about this small Reform congregation in her part of the state, and I’m glad that an Episcopal congregation has given them a home when it became impossible to maintain their building.