THE FIRST 50 YEARS: A Congregational History
Bereshit...In the beginning....
On a Monday evening in October of 1950, a group of people met at the home of Jerry Batt. They called themselves the "Board of Directors of the Peninsula Temple Congregation." Their purpose was to elect officers and to attempt to organize themselves. They elected Jack Ornstein president, Jerry Moskovitz and Charlotte Shanzer, vice-presidents, Herman Jolin, secretary and Melvin Dollinger, treasurer. They accomplished quite a lot that evening: appointed a Publicity Chairman, a Fund Raising Chairman (who promised to contact every Jewish family from South San Francisco to San Mateo, and even some south of San Mateo!) They voted to make the President of the Women's Guild a member of the Board and they decided on a quota of one hundred thousand dollars for completion of a Sunday School, Rabbi's study, kitchen and auditorium.
They were an ambitious group, enthusiastic and more than a little naive. Like all pioneers, they had, perhaps, more courage than sense, because they could not foresee the obstacles they would face. But they took the first steps on an exciting journey that warm October night. They would not rest until their task was complete and there was a facility for Jewish learning and worship on the Peninsula.
In 1950, the Peninsula was beginning to experience an extraordinary "growth spurt." Young families were able to purchase homes easily because of G.I. loans and building was rapid and constant. So many people had passed through San Francisco during the war and had decided this was the place to live. Public facilities could not keep up with the population boom. Schools were on double session and parents did a lot of "schlepping" of children. There was only one Jewish institution on the Peninsula, a small conservative synagogue in Menlo Park. The San Francisco Congregations Sherith Israel and Temple Emanu-El co-sponsored a religious school for the children of their congregants which met at the Seventh Day Adventist Church in Burlingame. Pre-confirmation classes were only available in the City so parents had to car-pool every Sunday morning. The parents became good friends, serving on the Board of Advisors for the Religious School, playing bridge and golf together. They became concerned that their children, while receiving an adequate Jewish education, were not able to do so in a Jewish building. They decided they wanted to build a religious school of their own, perhaps with a social hall attached for parties. They had no real plans for a separate congregation, just a school.
But Rabbis Alvin Fine of Temple Emanu-El and Morris Goldstein of Sherith Israel saw what their Peninsula congregants could not see. That summer at a youth camp at Zephyr Cove they met a young Rabbi who had worked with a group of 120 families to found a Congregation in Bakersfield. They asked him if he would be willing to speak to the group on the Peninsula and to relate his experience to them. He agreed and on a hot August night in 1950, Sanford Rosen met with a group of "interested people" at the home of Jerry and Esther Moskovitz.
He related the story of Bakersfield, but he left the meeting feeling discouraged. He was sure he had not inspired them to start their own congregation. When he returned to Bakersfield he sent a follow up letter to Jerry Moskovitz describing fund-raising methods used at Bakersfield. It was this letter which was read two months later at that initial board meeting. The seeds of an idea had indeed taken root and were beginning to flower. In February of 1951 a fund-raising rally was held in Burlingame and Rabbi Rosen was asked to speak. Over $30,000 in pledges was collected that day. People also pledged membership in this new enterprise, which still did not even have a name! Two months later, Rabbi Rosen was persuaded to come north and be the founding Rabbi. He was given the honor of naming the new congregation, and he chose to honor those pioneers in Bakersfield by naming it after their temple: Beth El.
Beth El, the House of God
Jacob dreamed and when he awoke, he said, "God is in this place and I knew it not." ( Gen. 28:16)
From the beginning of the congregation, women have held an equal place in the congregational leadership. The Women's Guild which evolved into the Sisterhood and is now Beth El Women, actually predated the Men's Club by two years. In 1952, when representing the Board of Trustees on the Bimah on a Friday night, Esther Moskovitz became the first woman to hold the Torah. It is said by those who were there that it caused only a ripple of reaction. Those early pioneers were described by someone who was close to them as having an "edifice complex." They wanted to build! They actually met on Sundays to clear land, hammer, saw and do whatever was necessary to move the building project along. Pat Osharow remembered that they were always coming to her house to borrow Ozzie's tools. But from the time Mel Dollinger took out a building permit in July of 1951 until the first worship service was held in our own facility in February of 1952, the work was non-stop. During the interim, worship had taken place in the Congregational Church and High Holy Days Services were held at the Belmont Theater. They would be held there for the next few years. Because the congregation was growing so rapidly, they had outgrown the site at 2103 Alameda by 1955. Plans were in the works to expand or to build on a totally new site.
Cantor Herbert Israel Epstein came to California in 1955, after studying at New York University, then at the Hebrew Union College in New York to become the first Cantor at Peninsula Temple Beth El. For 30 years, often actively working beside his wife, Roslyn, he composed, arranged, and performed the sacred music at Shabbat Services and holidays, trained nearly 1000 students for their Bar or Bat Mitzvah, and taught Hebrew to students as part of the Hebrew school program he pioneered. He also is remembered for the timeless love he put into the development of the adult and children's choirs, and his youth instrumental group he led for so many years. Many temple members still vividly remember or hear his beautiful music, spoken and written word.
But as so often happens in families, there was a disagreement. The result was the loss of about 90 families to start another congregation. The leaders vowed to move forward. In November of 1956, at a special meeting of the Board of Trustees, it was agreed that the Borel property be purchased from Mrs. Bovet. The site at 2103 Alameda was sold to the Carey school for $100,000. A few months later, 15 feet of frontage property was purchased so that the temple would have its entrance on Alameda. The new address would be 1700 Alameda.
Ground was broken and a time capsule (or two or three) were buried behind the corner-stone. By January 1956, membership was at 410 families. The congregation had organized around the need for a religious school. After using the facilities at the Seventh Day Adventist Church, the Knights of Columbus Hall in San Mateo was the next site for classes. Classes were conducted in workout rooms and on handball courts and were taught by recruits from among the parents, some of whom were only one lesson ahead of their students. In 1953, when classrooms were finally available, Congregation Emanu-El "loaned" Marshall Kuhn to Beth El as an interim principal. The loan was repaid eighteen years later when he retired from the position of principal to return to Emanu-El as confirmation class teacher. He established a tradition of commitment to learning that two generations of students were able to pass on to their own children.
Melba Rosen Remembers:
"While the congregation was in its infancy, San Mateo was still in its youth, a small community distinguished by large wooded areas, green hills and vast open spaces, including the grounds of our temple, which had been a site for Boy Scout camp-outs.
One of my first memories of those early days here is nearly freezing in August! After growing up in humid Ohio summers, and then living through several scorching summers in the San Joaquin Valley, the climate was an abrupt change. It seemed unheard of to turn on the heat, but I finally had to.
I remember with such pleasure the lovely surprise baby shower Sisterhood gave me. (Daughter Louise was born just one year after moving to San Mateo.) I remember a chilly Friday evening in March when we held our first service in the social hall of our present building with only heavy plastic sheeting protecting us from the elements and serving as a substitute for the unfinished eastern wall of the sanctuary."
God is in this place.
Temple members have always taken heed of the sacred text from the Talmud about their obligation to be a partner in repairing the world. In 1960, Rabbi Rosen was appointed by Governor Edmund G. Brown to be a delegate to the White House Conference on Children and Youth. In 1963, he was one of the organizers of the Peninsula Conference on Race, Religion, and Social Concern. In 1965, he participated in the Selma to Montgomery Civil rights march. The congregation voted to uphold the grape boycott in support of the United Farm Workers, under Cesar Chavez.
The spirit of innovation that was the hallmark of those pioneers has flourished through the years.
When Zara Jaffe came home from the 1972 biennial of the UAHC she had a great idea for a new program for Peninsula Temple Beth El. A questionnaire had been distributed to the congregants during the previous year asking what they most wanted from their temple affiliation. The response was overwhelming. Before religious school, before religious guidance, the one thing most looked for was a sense of community. Somehow, as the congregation had expanded to 600 families, this sense which had been so strong in the early, formative years was being lost. Zara had heard of a program in its fledgling stage in some Eastern congregations: small groups with common interest banding together within the temple community. These groups would each be called a Havurah. The idea was embraced immediately. Very quickly, ten Havurot were formed. They organized around such varied themes as Jewish study, Jewish cuisine (the 'Fressers'), and Israel. The membership grew as more wanted to join and to organize around different interest groups. Soon we had one of the largest Havurah movements in the UAHC. Havurot were springing up all over. The Beth El model was being adopted all over. Years later, some of the original Havurot still exist, having shared births, weddings, arthritis, friendship, and a sense of community. In 1978, a group of women were studying prayer book Hebrew with Cantor Epstein. They were "schmoozing" about why they hadn't had the opportunity of being called to the Torah as youngsters: one was a Jew by choice, some had been raised in Orthodox homes, others had lived too far from a synagogue to learn. Besides, that had been for boys. But now their daughters and in some cases, their grand-daughters, were preparing for Bat Mitzvah. They wished they could have done so, too. Cantor Epstein asked, "Well, why not?" and the first Adult B'nai Mitzvah class was born. Those five women, Esther Abrams, Elaine Kane, Dorothy Labson, Judy Sherr and Beverly Gaines, read from the Torah on June 9, 1978. They were the first of many.
God is in this place.
In 1982, after thirty years of service, Rabbi Rosen retired.
Rabbi Sanford Rosen Remembers:
"How richly blessed Melba and I have been these fifty years! Blessed to have started with only a few families who, as we worked together, demonstrated that the loving human spirit has marvelous potential. The devotion and dedication of that few, as you know, has drawn countless more to serve and be served in our Beth El, our spiritual home. They have been led, in one capacity or another, by the rabbis, cantors and twenty six temple presidents along with numerous other leaders and volunteers.
From a building that became the Carey School to the inspiring sanctuary and school facility we now have, two generations of parents and children have learned and prayed, laughed and wept, as they experienced the round of events that Jewish living and all living brings. Looking back we see that the words of the poet characterize our half century 'And all urge is blind save when there is knowledge, And all knowledge is vain save when there is work, And all work is empty save when there is love: And when you work with love you bind yourself to yourself, and to one another, and to God.' "
A Congregation which had only one rabbi began the search for a successor. Rabbi Peter J. Rubinstein of Woodlands Community Temple in White Plains, New York, succeeded him in 1982. In 1983, at the UAHC biennial conference in New Orleans, Rabbi Alexander Schindler made an historic suggestion. He noted the rise in Jewish intermarriage in America and in Reform Jewish families. He observed that many Congregations were now including intermarried couples and their children in their number. He stated that it was time for Reform Judaism to embrace rather than just include these people. His suggestion that the Reform movement adopt a concept of patrilineal descent was not overwhelmingly accepted, but it planted a seed. The idea that Reform Judaism actively welcomed converts to Judaism, and encouraged such choices, certainly struck a chord in San Mateo. Judy Simms and Beverly Gaines, both Jews by choice, and good friends through their Havurah saw a need and an opportunity. They went to Rabbi Rubinstein with the barest outline of a plan, and he said, in effect, "Go ahead." They were not sure what or where they were going, but they began. First with research. Turns out there wasn't much written about the subject and there were no programs in place. So Judy and Beverly started writing. Each month in the Bulletin (then called the Yad) a column written by one or both of them served to inform the congregation about new developments or to raise questions or to challenge old beliefs. They also encouraged new converts by publicly acknowledging them at Friday night services with a gift of the prayer book "Gates of the Home." After about a year of this, they were ready with a program. A plan to start support groups for intermarried couples, for those considering conversion, and perhaps as an after-thought, for parents of intermarried couples.
The parents' group was the first to organize. With the help of Isador Kamen, a psychiatrist who specialized in group therapy, and a lay facilitator, parents started meeting on a weekly basis. Those meetings were the nucleus of what is now the model for Reform Jewish Outreach throughout the UAHC. Judy and Beverly were asked to speak at Union Biennials and at Outreach conferences all over the country. The program, called "Times and Seasons" in the Western Region, was born from our Outreach program. One more example of Reform Jewish evolution here at Beth El.
In the 1980's Rabbi Rubinstein led a group to the Soviet Union to highlight the plight of Soviet Jews. Under his leadership, the congregation began their close connection to Samaritan House, and to other organizations to aid the homeless.
The temple acquired its own cemetery and Gan Hazikaron was consecrated in 1985.
God is in this place.
Rabbi Peter J. Rubinstein Remembers:
"We were blessed by great and visionary lay leaders and wonderful congregants who cared deeply about the quality of our synagogue as they considered the way in which Jewish life in the North Peninsula might be enhanced. An important part of our focus was on the building of community structure in our area. We believed that the identity of the North Peninsula Jewish Community mandated the creation of local institutions and separate branch offices of Jewish agencies. Towards that end we initiated a local office of JCF, began a nursery school coordinated with the JCC, created a conference scheduling and planning joint activities and education with other synagogues and institutions, worked with the JFCS in bringing their professionals into our building and even convinced Sinai Memorial Chapel to meet with our members in our facility.
Of course we were focused on service to our own members and opened our own cemetery facility, began day care in our building, and worked tirelessly in ensuring that our students benefited from trips to Israel and summer camp experiences at Camp Swig."
Rabbi Elka Abrahamson became Peninsula Temple Beth El's first Assistant Rabbi in 1985. Under her guidance the Religious School grew and thrived as she led the school into its modern era, including a strong emphasis on family education.
Seeing the need for quality day care, under Rabbi Abrahamson's tutelage, the congregation instituted the Ganon Early Childhood Education Center. Ganon comes from the Hebrew word "Gan" which means garden. Our Infant, Toddler, and Preschool programs have been established to provide a nurturing, secure, dependable environment for our youngest congregants. Rabbi Abrahamson served Beth El for eight years and feels that the establishment of Ganon as a Jewish Day Care Center defines her legacy in the Bay Area.
Ellen Schwab became Cantor at Beth El in 1986. In the years that Cantor Schwab has served Beth El, our musical program has been filled with beauty and reflected the diverse styles of Jewish music that our congregation so enjoys. Cantor Schwab has inspired a generation of B'nai Mitzvah students. Working with Joe Hansen, our temple organist, she has created memorable High Holy Days festival and Shabbat Services. Cantor Schwab has also innovated the Friends for Life Program, bringing emotional support and guidance to many.
Peninsula Temple Beth El has always been in the vanguard of change and evolution.
God is in this place.
In 1992, after a year and a half long search for a new rabbi, Rabbi Alan Berg came to Peninsula Temple Beth El after having served Temple Anshe Amunim in Pittsfield, MA. Rabbi Berg came to San Mateo with his dynamic and committed wife, Bonnie, and their three children. With Bonnie's enthusiasm, the Berg family and home quickly became a part of the temple.
In his early discussions with temple leadership, Rabbi Berg was charged with the mission of rebuilding the temple sanctuary for a new generation. The project became all the more possible as a result of a dinner at the home of Tom and Margit Lowenstein with Martin Lowenstein.
Martin would go on to lead the campaign, which has now resulted in our new temple sanctuary. Rabbi Berg also had the good fortune of working with a group of dynamic, courageous and visionary temple presidents: Neal Winchell, David Finkelstein, Bill Schwartz, Bob Serbin, Beth Labson Freeman and Jay Strauss.
Two committed and talented Associate Rabbis, Evan Goodman, who was succeeded in 1998 by Michael Lezak, both created a spirit in the temple Religious School that touched the hearts of all temple members in their capacity to inspire children to live a life of Torah. A commitment to serve our teens and ultimately all our students in an unprecedented way began with the request by Rabbi Berg that the temple create a lounge that would be definitively for our teens. He asked the Board of Trustees and Sid Davis responded, as he and Ida had so often in the past, "How much do you need?" This space, now known as the Sid and Ida Davis Youth Lounge, was dedicated in 1995. Not a classroom space, not somewhere where adults had to be accommodated, rather a place just for kids, has become home away from home for succeeding classes of young people. Under the direction of Kathy Pollack, the only full-time Youth Director in the Western Region, the senior high school youth group now numbers 31 active members. The Youth Lounge is their territory. They plan activities there, play pool or foos-ball, do home-work (yeah, sure) - they hang out. The room is almost never empty after 3:00 p.m. It is a fitting tribute to the Davises, for whom it is named and to Bob Serbin for developing the project.
Serving under each of these fine temple presidents, the temple boards of these last 10 years made a strong commitment to enhancing the Jewish experience of every one of our youths. The result of this can be seen in the following comments by our Youth Programs Director, Kathy Pollack.
"We have an extremely gifted staff team creating and managing the PTBE Youth Programs. Our motto is programs for babies through high school kids, and beyond. Truly, this current model fulfills the dreams of the Temple Board of Trustees, and Religious School Board members as well. Ganon, The Infant Toddler and Pre-school program, which is under the leadership of site director Sharon White was voted the best center on the Peninsula by Peninsula Parent magazine. Under the leadership of Rabbi Michael Lezak, and principal Yosef Peretz, the Religious School is thriving with the addition of many new programs, including a parent-child program, dance classes, a 7th grade family retreat, and the creation of a thriving 11th and 12th grade program. Our youth groups have also grown by leaps and bounds. We currently operate four youth groups for children in grades 1 through 12. Just this year, we have created a successful leadership model for our senior high group, SMRTY (San Mateo Reform Temple Youth)."
God is in this place.
The next step in the process of renewal was securing a strong financial foundation for the temple. Bill Mayer, Bob Serbin, Bob Reisfeld, three great Temple Administrators, Steve Weiner, Ruth W. Cohen and Norm Frankel worked with Rabbi Berg to develop a very conservative but developmental approach to the temple budget and created a financial environment that made it possible to go forward toward the sanctuary renovation. Bill Mayer was at the core of this process.
Bill Mayer Remembers:
"As we entered the 90's the temple was challenged with greater expenses than revenues, had significant debt, and had a dues structure inadequate to support temple programming. During the past decade, the treasurers and various members of the Budget, Finance, and Investment Committees have worked diligently to get the temple on a sound financial footing. During the mid-90's the budget was reformatted to make it extremely clear to the Board of Trustees exactly what our financial situation was, how we got there, and where we were headed. As a result of planning we achieved our objective of producing a balanced Operating Budget based upon conservative revenue forecasts and realistic expense projections. Through the hard work of the clergy, staff, and lay leadership, each month's results are reviewed in line with the budget and adjustments are made as necessary to insure that we meet our budget expectations. We have successfully achieved this goal for the last five years.
We successfully negotiated a three year reduction in fees paid to the Union of American Hebrew Congregations thus saving the Temple significant sums. This was negotiated in conjunction with a planned level of required dues increases - a goal which we were also able to achieve. We identified the need to turn non-liquid assets (primarily composed of cemetery plots at Gan Hazikaron) into cash and our Endowment Fund has purchased these assets. We continue to provide our cemetery as a valuable service to our community, and as these plots are sold, the Endowment grows. As we ended the 90's the temple was debt free. Under Beth Labson Freeman's direction, we have established an Investment Committee to manage our Endowment Funds on a long-term basis, and to invest available operating cash on a short term basis. As we look into the future our goal is to continue our success in creating balanced operating budgets to meet our members programming needs and with corresponding balanced results. We continue to stay focused on the needs to serve every member regardless of their ability to pay, and to insure those with the ability to pay contribute their fair share."
Earlier Bill Schwartz approached Stephanie Hoffman to bring the temple's already superb library into a new era. Stephanie, Margit Lowenstein and the Library Committee created innovations in design that has led to increased circulation and usage. The library renovation, over-seen by Margit Lowenstein and Stephanie Hoffman in 1997 has given us the most modern Jewish library in the area. We now have one of the largest collection of Jewish writings west of the Mississippi, and have become a center for Jewish research and learning. Following closely on the changes to the temple library, Rabbi Berg had been challenged by the temple leadership to increase the impact of the adult studies program on our congregants. The result was Yeshiva Chadasha, the New School for Adult Studies at Beth El. This Jewish studies, arts and culture program has as its goal to remain close to the pulse of contemporary Jewish concerns. Yeshiva Chadasha, the adult education program, is one of the most comprehensive in the United States. Topics are both timely and universal. Just this year you can study prayer book Hebrew, prepare for an adult B'nai Mitzvah, learn about bike maintenance, discuss Israel or learn about Jewish life in the former Soviet Union. The annual Scholar-in-Residence program and the monthly Doctors in Dialogue are part of a program that includes great musicians, artists, Torah scholars and leaders from academia. Under the administrative direction of Cindi Serbin, the Yeshiva Chadasha has set the standard for adult Jewish growth within the synagogue setting. By the mid-90s, Beth El was bursting with vitality. The congregation now participates in the Interfaith Hospitality Network which serves the homeless and our "To Make A Difference" committee matches members with many volunteer opportunities in the community. The Mitzvah Friends Committee helps provide respite care for those caring for older or infirm relatives. They have driven others to the doctor, gone shopping and provided rides to services for those not able to drive at night. The Mitzvah Committee helps meet as many needs our members face as possible. Our religious school today serves 600 children and young adults, from pre-kindergarten to the twelfth grade. In 2002, the fiftieth class will be confirmed. But their education does not end there. Under the direction of Rabbi Michael Lezak, students can now elect to continue in a senior high school program.
God is in this place.
In 1996, "The Promise of the Rainbow... A Campaign for Beth El's Next 50 Years," with the sanctuary renovation as its keystone, had reached a threshold. Martin Lowenstein was appointed by the Board of Trustees to research the feasibility of a capital campaign for the sanctuary renovation. In a Rosh Hashanah morning sermon entitled, "Promise of the Rainbow," Rabbi Berg put the challenge of the renovation before the congregation.
"Recently I visited a founding member of the temple in her home. There above the fireplace were pictures of each of her children in front of our beautiful ark. Like so many of the thousands of Beth El families spanning three generations, some of the most important experiences of our lives have occurred in our beautiful sanctuary.
From a distance the sanctuary looks much as it did when it was built over forty years ago. The rainbow of colors in the bright of day fills our hearts with hope, our spirits are exalted by the exhilarating architecture and the spirit of community is made possible by the unique seating we find for our Shabbat worship. As we anticipate our Jubilee anniversary, as a temple, just two years hence, let us look forward to being strengthened spiritually, emotionally and physically from our renovated sanctuary.
If we think, of all the children who will become B'nai Mitzvah, the varied life cycle events and the many occasions of sanctity which will take place in front of the ark in the next century, may we be blessed to know, as were our founders, and those who built this temple, that we have left a legacy of beauty and love for others to share and remember.
If the history of this temple gives evidence of any reality, it is that Judaism is strong, it is a desired religious tradition that speaks to and reflects our inner lives."
Step by step, as if climbing the ancient ladder of Jacob's dream at Beth El, our shared dream was transformed into a reality. In 1998, temple president Beth Labson Freeman, having already served as chair of the dynamic Religious School Board, led a group of lay leaders, working in partnership with our architects, Susie Coliver and Bob Herman, to create a sanctuary to meet the many needs expressed by our congregants. After two years of careful design and construction, the Service of Rededication was held on January 18, 2002, as the congregation welcomed itself into its new shared home. Our new sanctuary is noteworthy not only for the Meditation Room but for several unique features that are mentioned here by the architects.
The Architects' Commentary:
"The Ark - We can all remember times when we were small...standing with parents as the Torah was marched around the synagogue...when we couldn't see over the backs of bigger people around us...knowing where the Torah was only because of the silver bells adorning the crowns were tinkling. It is this audible memory, a memory of excitement and mystery, in combination with a visual play of light, which informs the design of the ark. (aron ha'kodesh).
Silver bells are embedded within the ark's movable parts, jingling as the doors are opened, announcing the imminent view of the Torah scrolls. Bands of dichroic colored glass in the shades of the rainbow, surround the bells.
The ark was rebuilt inside-out with the two quotations that formerly graced the ark doors, now inside of the doors, and are visible when the ark is opened. From Leviticus 19:18-19: You shall be holy, for I, the Lord your God, am holy. Love your neighbor as yourself. You shall observe my laws. The rebuilt ark will evoke tinkling bells signifying the presence of the Torah, and shimmering rainbows, a reminder of God's covenant with the Jewish people.
As our sacred calendar reminds us of the passage of time, its poignancy and its reality; so now do we seek God's blessing upon the generations of Beth El.
The 40 foot long Jewish calendar correlates the weekly parsha, Torah portion, to the Jewish month during which they are read, as well as to the holidays which syncopate the year. A tassel is moved each week to hang beside the appropriate parshah. The tassel is shaped like the long fringe at the corner of a tallis, with its five knotted sections. The sculptured piece, made of carved birch, sand-blasted glass, and Jerusalem stone serves as a teaching tool."
At the Rededication Service on January 18, 2002, Rabbi Berg spoke of the great blessing of our new sanctuary.
"Tonight is a night of the sweet nothings of love, whispered by God to us and us to God. A night of feeling God's love, and of our bringing it into the world. A night of old memories and of renewal. A night of love and Torah.
There is a tremendous amount of wisdom in this temple. You can see before you its collective expression.
It is true that miracles and inspiration happen everywhere. And with the colors of the coastal range that begins in San Mateo and soars westward to the ocean as our colors here, we feel the beauty of nature.
But what defines a community for purpose is its ability to be inspired as a community, what defines a community for its children, who watch what we do very carefully, is our capacity to together perform quiet miracles. Look forward together. That is my prayer for you as a community.
The Promise of the Rainbow has been kind to us here tonight. We are commanded to draw from that a passion to bring the promise of hope where we can.
Tonight we share this rare once in an era moment, lighting the Eternal Light, returning the Torahs to the ark and now, together with God in our hearts, putting a blessing upon the sanctuary.
We have lifted our voices in unity two times already chanting the great prayer, the Shehechiyanu, as we thank God for the blessing of having lived to reach this moment. We lighted the Eternal Light. Shehechiyanu.
We returned the Torah's to the ark. Shehechiyanu.
And in a few moments, after Bernstein's Chichester Psalms create a space within each of us, we will chant Shehechiyanu a third time, praying for the peace of this place and the vitality, friendship, and health of its people. During the oneg the sanctuary doors will be put in place and become a Jewish sacred calendar. Take a walk over to that wall and mark where we are tonight. Watch the tassel move throughout the year, week by week. We see that time passes so quickly.
We know that marking the passage of time as a community is going to be the most poignant lesson that this our new shared home teaches. I am certain there will be a greater understanding of the epic flow of Torah, a greater practice of the festivals, a stronger awareness of Israel as a people and a visceral, physical feeling of the loveliness of Jewish time. Now we cross the threshold to a new era, may the old memories, be known in these walls, and the sweet nothings of love and Torah, within our hearts."
God is in this place.
After the dedication of the sanctuary Rabbi Berg was asked what he felt his most significant accomplishment was since he arrived at Beth El. His answer was, "Getting to know our members better and better. Everything the temple can accomplish and mean to people depends on our connections with each other. It's the foundation for everything. How well we listen and what we can learn from each other."
Today, with Jay B. Strauss as President, the vitality of Beth El has its roots at our beginning fifty years ago. Our congregation has seen hundreds of Bar Mitzvahs called to the Torah since Howard Pelzner in 1952, and scores of Bat Mitzvahs since Lydia Mazer broke ground in 1961. Hundreds of young couples have been joined in marriage since Gail Levin and Richard Lowenthal became the first bride and groom to be married in our present sanctuary in 1957. Good times and bad have been shared by a congregation which has swelled to over 700 families: more than 3500 individuals. After fifty years of congregational life, Peninsula Temple Beth El is vigorous and exciting. While the demographics of the membership have certainly changed since 1952, the goals remain the same—to provide a place for Jewish worship and Jewish education, to maintain strong ties to the State of Israel, and to nurture Jewish life on the Peninsula. As Rabbi Berg has stated: "Our mission remains ...to be a path to God across the generations by helping people stay close to each other as, together, we all become closer to God."
|Jack Ornstein||1951 - 1952|
|Harry Geballe||1952 - 1954|
|Harold Shanzer||1954 - 1955|
|Willard Feldscher||1955 - 1957|
|Philip S. Friedenthal||1957 - 1959|
|Dr. James. D. Jacoby||1959 - 1960|
|Robert M. Blatteis||1960 - 1962|
|Joshua Jaffe||1962 - 1964|
|Myron Wacholder||1964 - 1966|
|Charles C. Gensler||1966 - 1968|
|Theodore B. Kramer||1968 - 1970|
|Milton Bronstein||1970 - 1972|
|Zara C. Jaffe||1972 - 1974|
|Edward Austin||1974 - 1976|
|Tom Lowenstein||1976 - 1978|
|Richard S. Lenat||1978 - 1980|
|Joyce Share||1980 - 1982|
|Diane Marcus||1982 - 1984|
|Ira Berk||1984 - 1985|
|Susan Folkman||1985 - 1987|
|Arthur Inerfield||1987 - 1989|
|Larry J. Strauss||1989 - 1990|
|Neal R. Winchell||1990 - 1992|
|William L. Schwartz||1992 - 1994|
|David Finkelstein||1994 - 1996|
|Robert G. Serbin||1996 - 1998|
|Beth Labson Freeman||1998 - 2000|
|Jay B. Strauss||2000 - 2002|
|Michael Prozan||2002 - 2004|
|Laurie May||2004 - 2006|
|Norm Weil||2006 - 2008|
|Bill Freeman||2008 - 2010|
|Lorna Siepser||2010 - 2012|
|Phil Strause||2012 - 2014|
|Jill Goldring||2014 - 2016|
|Lawrence Siegel||2016 - 2018|
|Jeff Hyman||2018 - 2020|