Our History

Warmth and Tradition

Our Story

In this year, 2018, Temple Bnai Emet celebrates their 90th anniversary. Just imagine that 90 years ago, in 1928, a group of “Eastside” men and women felt the need to give their children a Jewish education. These dedicated Jews, many coming from Boyle Heights and the Breed Street Shul, joined together to begin the work that culminated in the creation of our Historic Temple.   

With pride and honor, we recall the memory of the Jewish pioneers and leaders whose legacy we celebrate at Temple B’nai Emet in Montebello, California. Through the early years, as families began to move into the area, there was an expansion of members, Temple-affiliated organizations and leadership.  More than once we changed physical locations in East Los Angeles — from an initial small building on Humphreys Avenue, to a small hotel, to a theater on Whittier Boulevard for High Holidays, to Ford Avenue — and finally to our present site on Garfield Avenue in Montebello. Somewhat ironically, the city of Montebello was founded many years earlier on land purchased by Jews in the late 1800’s. Even the name of the Temple has changed over the years from “Jewish Educational Alliance”, to the “Synagogue Center” to “Jewish Educational Center of East Los Angeles”, and finally to Temple B’nai Emet which means “Children of Truth.”

In 1944, Rabbi Eugene Gottesman was appointed as the Rabbi and Spiritual leader of the Temple, and he served B’nai Emet for the next 27 years. It was during his tenure that the congregation reached its greatest growth in the number of members served. In 1974, Rabbi Samuel Stone took over leadership after a series of interim Rabbis. Rabbi Stone, and his wife Vivian, established the “482 Club,” which, while primarily a social club, contributed to the financial well-being of the Temple.  Cantor Joel Stern officiated with Rabbi Stone for a number of years.  During this time, he established a wonderful choir, and the Temple was known for its musical productions.  Our next Cantor was Ron Galperin, who served B’nai Emet for over 20 years.  You may recognize the name as Ron is currently the Los Angeles City Controller. We were fortunate to have their knowledge of “nusach” as well as leadership and their caring and dynamic presence for such a long time.

Over the years, many other organizations have been instrumental in supporting the Temple and making it a dynamic part of our communities.  One was the Ladies Auxiliary (that later became The Sisterhood), with Flo Schwartz as its perpetually-active and vital president for over 20 years. The Sisterhood was crucial to the bingo fundraising efforts that contributed to the Temple’s continued existence. The Men’s Club was another important service organization, most well-known for its many Sunday morning breakfast fundraisers and raffles. The Minyonaires, led by Gabbai Izzy Alpert, was fundamental to the ongoing mission of the Temple, conducting daily and shiva services as well as collecting donations that were given to the Temple treasury.  Of course, many of the Temple’s historic leaders are no longer with us, but we remember them with love and gratitude for their contributions and achievements. As we look back, with great nostalgia and fond memories, we recall some of the achievements made during the first 60 year’s history of Temple B’nai Emet:
         - The burning of the mortgage in 1983, that secured our Synagogue for many years.
         - The organization of the Temple Choir, and its many achievements and inspiring performances with Cantor Joel Stern as its last director.
         - The Creative dramas and comedies presented by temple members.
         - The beautiful sanctuary windows donated by the Sisterhood and Temple members.

B’nai Emet is proud of its memories and we preserve many of them in the beautiful works of art that fill its hallways. In every historical review, several individuals standout for their dedication and commitment to our Temple;  We owe a special note of gratitude to our wonderful Temple “mothers.” First is Grace Hasson, who brightened our kitchen for many years with her love, joy, dedication and loyalty. Equally treasured was our other Temple mother, Clara Segal, an energetic bundle of cheer and affection for all. Temple B’nai Emet honored Grace and Clara together, with a permanent bronze plaque referring to them as Eshet Chayil’s “Women of Valor” (Proverbs 31).  Worthy of special mention are Dorothy Mear who contributed immensely as Temple Secretary.  And of course, we pay tribute to Rachel DeMerit who served not only as Secretary, but also as Executive Director. As Belle Shrager wrote in 1989, “Those who are familiar with the way our Temple functions, know that miracles emanate from Rachel’s desk on a daily basis.  We all owe Rachel a great debt of love and gratitude.”  We also can’t forget Abe Baron, who served as Temple President for over 17 years with kindness and grace, followed by his wife Ethel who served for several more years.

Our current spiritual leader is Rabbi Sheldon Pennes, who has served B’nai Emet since November 1992.  Rabbi Pennes was raised just up the street in Alhambra, California.  His family belonged to Alhambra Synagogue Center (later called Temple Beth Torah) that no longer exists.  For several years as a teenager, Rabbi Pennes came to B’nai Emet where he attended classes at the Los Angeles Hebrew High School.  He went on to U.C.L.A. for college, but concurrently, also took classes at the University of Judaism.  When he completed the pre-Rabbinic program at the “U.J.”, he moved to New York (and Israel) eventually receiving his Rabbinic ordination from the Jewish Theological Seminary in June 1978.

Steven Kaye is our Ritual Vice President and originally lived in West Los Angeles, where his family attended Congregation Mogen David – and where he became a bar mitzvah.  Additionally, Steven is both a prayer leader and long-time member of our Board of Directors. Our office manager is Valerie Cook, who has been with us for over 20 years.  She is the person who answers the phone when you call, puts together the Clarion Temple bulletin, does the bookkeeping and more.  Perhaps most importantly, she is often thought of as the caring voice of our Temple for all of our members and friends.  Finally, a great deal of gratitude is owed to our dedicated Board of Directors, who have guided B’nai Emet through the many challenges that come with being a long-standing part of a changing community.

We embrace the future by being a dynamic spiritual and regional center that works to sustain and support the Jewish community on the East side of downtown Los Angeles – just as our founders did some 90 years ago.  We believe that Judaism is nourished by how we care for one another and by our learning and commitment to traditional Jewish values. These values continue to be at the heart of who we are at Temple B’nai Emet. 

That is why we treasure our members and supporters, many of whom no longer live in our immediate neighborhoods, who regularly travel from places like Long Beach, Santa Clarita, San Luis Obispo and Newport Beach, to be together for Shabbat and holidays.

Come visit us and engage in being a part of a living tradition of love, learning and Jewish values.