A History of Our Temple
– Freely adapted from Blanche Badion’s Notes About
Salinas Jewry and History of Salinas Jewry
Around 1900, the first Jewish settlers arrived in Salinas. Some became small shopkeepers of clothing, jewelry, insurance, groceries, and furniture. Others became cattle buyers, shippers, and growers.
By 1928, we had 22 members in the B’nai Brith lodge, which, with the women’s group, became the First Hebrew Congregation and community Center in 1936. We were still meeting in people’s homes for prayer, poker, and politics; and would rent a hall for the High Holidays. Names like Savitz, Kasavan, and Myerfeld were among the movers and shakers, and their offspring are still here, moving and shaking.
In 1938, George Genser and his wife Rose contributed the lot for the first temple, on Park Street. Jack Kasavan was our first president, and Genser our second. The temple was built with funding from private contributors, including merchants and produce brokers. It took a lot of lettuce.
During the war years, they entertained service men at the USO or at our Center. “THE BIGGEST…THE BEST…THE MOST SIGNIFICANT AFFAIR” was the consensus about the Seder that “Little Salinas” put on for over 600 service men. This was held at the Armory and P.G. & E. where men volunteered to decorate and local waitresses served without pay.
Fort Ord sent dishes, glasses, and silverware on the prodding of Eddie Pallakoff. Katie Kasavan single handedly made 800 pieces of gefilte fish, and her committee of women did the rest of the cooking. The behind the scene planners of the affair were Nate Savitz, Lee Myerfeld, and Eddie Pallakoff.
During World War II and after, Chaplain Hertz of Fort Ord saw to our religious needs and our first Rabbi Seymour Stern joined the congregation in 1949. He led us until 1952. Cele Savitz was the founder and first director of our Sunday School. Jack Abramson became educational director during his stay.
In 1952, Sisterhood was formed. Then, as now, their efforts were toward underwriting Sunday School salaries, purchasing prayer books, contributing toward a building fund, and maintenance. Later they added the purchase of Israeli bonds.
Then Rabbi Abraham Haselkorn came in 1952. His wife, Alda, became director of the Sunday School, and both were active members of the Salinas community for 20 years. He established the Haselkorn Doctrine. “The function of a minister is to get out of from parochial needs of the church or synagogue into the needs of the community – and for diverse groups to keep the lines of communication open”. He became Rabbi Emeritus in 1973. Those Rabbis who served since have followed his example.
In 1963, we built our present building, at 1212 Riker Street, to accommodate our growth. Sig Aidelberg, as President, supervised our maturation for 10 years. We also changed our name to Temple Beth El, and became affiliated with the Reform movement’s Union of American Hebrew Congregations.
Rabbi Bruce Kadden and his wife, Barbara, joined our Temple in 1984, followed by Rabbi Frank Stern in 2004. Rabbi William A. Greenebaum II, who along with his wife Nancy were already members of Temple Beth El, became our spiritual leader in 2005. Rabbi Mike Howald joined us in 2006, and left in October 2009. Rabbi Delbick and her family joined us from July 2010 through June, 2017. We are honored to have the leadership of Cantor Margaret Bruner at this time.
While we are a reform congregation, we have members from a wide range of religious backgrounds. Our membership includes members of diverse age levels, religious education and commitment. Women participate in every phase of religious service.
Our support for Israel is strong, but expressed in all its diversity of voices. Ours is a changing religion, adapting to the needs of the times, while maintaining the respect for the traditions of our ancestors. Our objectives have been both religious and cultural, providing religious school and Hebrew for our children as well as educational programs for adults.
We support the Salvation Army’s annual Red Kettle drive, Dorothy’s Kitchen, and other community projects.
Our annual Kosher Style Lunch has become a Salinas institution, growing yearly over the past 60+ years, and our interfaith Bible study classes attract a large, ecumenical group.