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Temple Beth Israel is one of the oldest continuously-operating synagogues in LA.

Ours is a story of community organizing and participation, and growing with our neighborhood in Highland Park. Through happenstance and the diligent research of some of our members, we are proud to share and remember how it all started. 

1923- The beginning

Temple Beth Israel was incorporated on December 18, 1923.

As the story goes, a local Jewish woman wanted to study Torah. Being TBI's future first chutzpanik, she approached her postman and wheedled from him a list of the addresses of anyone in the area with Jewish-sounding names.

From this humble list, the congregation was born as a group of lay persons getting together and figuring things out themselves. We've been DIY since that very first day - and very importantly, women have had key roles in Temple life all along.

Figueroa and Avenue 56 in Highland Park, just down the street from TBI, circa 1920s. (Source unknown)

1924- The famous Purim play starring Pauline

TBI didn't waste any time getting to the important things. The first Purim play was held in 1924. We didn’t have a building yet, so the play was held in the local Masonic temple which, by the way, is now building number 89002268 on the National Register of Historic Places. The girl at the center of the row of people standing is Pauline playing Queen Esther. Somewhere in this photo is former Congressman Mel Levine’s father, according to Pauline.


1929- The synagogue (our current home.)

The congregation moved into its present synagogue building in 1929. As far as we can determine, we're the second-oldest temple in Los Angeles still operating in its original premises.

1929 groundbreaking ceremony

1948- Remodeling the sanctuary

1948 saw a number of changes to the Congregation and the Temple itself. After a period of dwindling membership, the congregation was experiencing new growth, spurring the extensive remodeling which resulted in the Temple's current layout.

Some of what we know of this time is taken from the annual yearbooks, which took the form of a small magazine with a few articles by officers and members and ads from local merchants. These yearbooks were sold as fundraisers, but also served as a valuable source for temple history.

Monte Vista and Avenue 61, just down the street from TBI. 1955- from the LA Metro Archives.
by Albert Gorian, President, TBI, from the 1948 Yearbook
It is both a pleasure and privilege for me to greet my fellow members on the occasion of the first publication of a Temple Year Book. The members of Temple Beth Israel may be justifiably proud of their achievements during the past year.
Just one year ago Jewish life in our community was in a state of suspended animation. Our congregation was small and weak; our Temple lacked a qualified, modern, spiritual leader; our Sunday school children were instructed by older children. Religious services were limited to High Holidays and the Sabbath morning minyon, while the rest of the year the sanctuary was mostly dark. These deplorable conditions required immediate and drastic remedies in order to save this isolated outpost of Jewish life.
Just one year ago our little congregation charted a new course. Our little group of men determined with courage and faith to assume those obligations which dignify the name Jew. We determined to awaken within ourselves and within our lackadaisical Jewish neighbor that dormant spiritual spark, to correct existing evils and to strengthen our Jewish communal life.
And here we meet again one year later. Temple Beth Israel of Highland Park and Eagle Rock has become a beehive of activity, religiously, culturally and socially. We are blessed with a qualified and conscientious Rabbi who caters to the needs of the adults and the young. Our Sunday schools and Hebrew classes are thriving. Our membership has nearly trebled. We are no longer merely an isolated Jewish outpost in a vast city, but have become an important link in the Conservative chain of this western area.
Who is responsible for this miraculous transformation? Well, I would say it was all due to you – Plus our help. You who contributed a maximum of funds, or you who contributed a minimum of funds but who also repaired the roof or reseeded the lawn or persuaded other men to become members. You are surely the one who provided the spark that inspired men to join you in our sacred cause.
It has been a wonderful experience for me to play on your team and to contribute my small bit to our common victory. I salute you and congratulate you on a task perfectly completed. May we continue to merit the blessing of God in the work in which we are engaged.

Jerome "Jerry" Share- Designing the interior

Jerome "Jerry" Share, after moving home to Los Angeles after college to run his family's Pepsi-Cola bottling business, threw his creative energy and knowledge into redesigning the interior of the Temple. It was he who, while keeping the exquisite original 1929 stained glass windows intact, designed and procured the two brass frames over the windows. These let the light from the Stars of David shine through, and many Temple-goers have remarked that it is quite inspirational as they pray.

Jerry also added the warm-toned wood paneling with zig-zag accents, and designed the two Lion of Judah sculptures installed over the doors to the foyer.

Jerry's original sketches for the redesign of the Temple interior came to us in serendipitous fashion. A long-time Eagle Rock resident known only as "Adel" was cleaning her kitchen one day when she came upon some old papers. These turned out to be Jerry's original renderings of the temple interior, including various stages of sketches and the full-size cartoons for the Lion of Judah artwork - the house previously belonged to him! Luckily, Adel's neighbors were long-time, active TBI members Jerry and Gloria Schneider. Adel kindly gave these wonderful heirlooms to Jerry and Gloria Schneider, and thus they finally returned home to TBI.

Not all of Jerry's dreams became reality, though!

There'll Be Some Changes Made
by Jerome Share, from The Observer (TBI Newsletter), 1948
Perhaps you have been wondering about all the buzzing around the Temple lately. It seems that our long-cherished dreams of expansion and remodeling are about to come true.
The first change to meet your eye will be the painting of the exterior of the Temple—dazzling white with trim of blue. And flood-lights will shine on the building instead of in your eyes. Minor surgery will remove the little shed-room which hides the really good lines of the Temple. Over the doorway will be mounted a bronze tablet proclaiming our Faith, and flanking the doorway will be a large wooden Menorah. If these confirm the suspicion that there is a Jewish Temple in Highland Park—GOOD!
Many extensive changes are planned for the Hall of Worship. We hope to make it just that—a Hall of Worship! One befitting the beauty and dignity of our religious services.
The Holy Ark will be fitted with sliding doors fashioned in the form of the two tablets of the Law and the inscriptions of the Ten Commandments will be hand-carved and lettered in gold on them. The entire Ark Wall will be of American Walnut, covering even the two windows. Only the stained-glass Stars of David will show, and at evening services, lights will shine thru. The Stars will be framed in a deep beveled shadow-box, which also forms a six pointed star.
Flanking the Ark will be two fluted walnut pilasters, these will slide together on recessed tracks to curtain the Ark when religious services are not being held. Both the pilasters and the Ark itself will be lined in asbestos to protect our Holy Scrolls in the event of a fire (God forbid).
The reader’s stand will be faced on three sides with fluted walnut to match the pilasters and the pulpit itself will be squared off to afford a more spacious stage.
The doors from the lobby and the doors to the social hall will be framed in a large sheet of walnut up to the ceiling and continue across it, connecting and unifying the entrances. Over each doorway will be a pair of carved Lions of Judah.
The other columns in the room will be faced in fluted walnut continuing across the ceiling to its opposite member in a similar manner to the door treatment. Behind these ceiling beams will be cold-cathode lights, creating an even lighting throughout the room.
To finish the scheme, the floors will be sanded and the walls and ceiling painted, not only in the Sanctuary, but in all the other rooms, also.
The expansion part of the program is the erecting of an additional room of over six hundred square feet of floor space. This will be added in the angle between the social hall and the kitchen. Not only will this space function as a much-needed class-room and club-room, but on occasions of larger gatherings, the doors will swing open to form part of the larger social hall. It will have its own doorway and cloak-room so that entrance through the Hall of Worship will no longer be necessary. And to facilitate the serving of refreshments (hear ye, hear ye) a door will be cut from the kitchen.
We hope this program meets with your approval. If it does, credit Jack Gordon and his hard-working committee. If it doesn’t, blame only yourself—you should have been in there helping.
Of course such a program requires financing—and that is the next problem to be solved. ANY SUGGESTIONS??

1960s- The sisterhood

Images of the TBI sisterhood- 1966

TBI Today...

We've transformed our grounds and added a solar roof, but the real transformation of TBI has been through our rabbi and cantors, our renewed programming, and our growing membership following the transformation of Highland Park. We can't wait to show you what's next. 

Tour our sanctuary (virtually)

See our grounds and garden

Mon, May 27 2024 19 Iyyar 5784