In late fall of 1955, three families (the Sporns, Goldmanns and Fines) got together in a private home in Fullerton to discuss the formation of a Conservative congregation in Orange County. Reform synagogue Temple Beth Sholom had been established in Santa Ana in 1943, but by the mid ‘50s the Jewish population was expanding rapidly and it was abundantly clear that another shul was needed. Temple Beth Emet, as the new congregation was named, took off running.
By early 1956, Beth Emet was recognized by the State of California and the Conservative movement. By the end of the year, Sisterhood and Men’s Club were formed, the Religious School began (with 120 children enrolled), the first Temple newsletter (Beth Emet Tidings) was printed, a property was purchased (the “House on Emily Street”) and High Holiday services were held.
In 1957, the Youth Group was established, Rabbi Aaron Tofield was hired, and religious school enrollment had climbed to 200. 1958 brought Cantor Philip Moddel on board, and in 1963 the newly built synagogue was dedicated.
By the early ‘70s, TBE had over 550 families and 700 Hebrew School students! For decades it was by far the largest and most successful synagogue in Orange County.
Temple Beth Emet’s impact on Jewish life in Orange County cannot be overstated—it is everywhere, having laid the groundwork for Jewish places of worship, education, socialization, and senior care that exists today. But mostly, it resides in its people, many of whom have become leaders in their own Jewish communities. However, the truest measure of success is not what they have become but who they are—knowledgeable and proud Jews with a strong Jewish identity and an active commitment to our future. And Beth Emet has secured that legacy by donating its extensive archives to the OC Jewish Historical Society, so that future generations will always know the foundational work accomplished by one amazing synagogue. Amen!
Dalia Taft, archivist of the Orange County Jewish Historical Society, highlights images from the archives every month. For more information, please visit www.jewishoc.org/history. You can also contact Dalia at email@example.com or at (949) 435-3400, ext. 360. The Orange County Jewish Historical Society is a program of the Merage Jewish Community Center and is fully funded by the Jewish Community Foundation Orange County.