Warmth and Tradition
Temple B'nai Emet
In January 2014 Temple B’nai Emet achieved its 85th anniversary. Just imagine that 85 years ago, in 1929, a group of “Eastside” men and women felt the need to give their children a Jewish education. These dedicated Jews joined together to begin the work that culminated in the creation of our historic temple.
With pride and honor we recall the memory of those Jewish pioneers and leaders whose legacy we celebrate at Temple B’nai Emet in Montebello. Through those early years, as families began to move into the area, especially from the center of Jewish life in Boyle Heights, there was an expansion of members, temple affiliated organizations and leadership. More than once we changed physical locations—from an initial small building on Humphreys Avenue, to a small hotel, to a theater on Whittier Blvd. for High Holidays, to Ford Ave.—finally to our present site on Garfield Avenue in Montebello. 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 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 assumed 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 wellbeing of the temple. Ron Galperin, was the Cantor and voice of B’nai Emet for over 20 years. We were fortunate to have his knowledge of “nusach” as well as his leadership and most of all his caring and dynamic presence for such a long time.
Over the years many other organizations have been instrumental in supporting the temple. First 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.
Obviously many of the temple’s leaders are no longer with us, but we remember them with love and gratitude for their contributions and achievements. As we look back with 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 has led to our current state of financial sustainability.
- 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 the memories we have chosen to preserve 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 Bnai 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.”
Finally, we 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.
Finally, we want to include a few lines about the current leadership of B’nai Emet. Our spiritual leader, Rabbi Sheldon Pennes, has served Bnai Emet since 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.
Our ritual vice-president is Steven Kaye who originally lived in West Los Angeles where his family attended Congregation Mogen David, and where he became a bar mitzvah. In addition Steven is both 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. Most of all, in her position, 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 all of our recent challenges.
As we look forward to the future, we look to sustain and support a Jewish community on the east side of downtown Los Angeles, just as our founders did some 85 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 continue to be at the heart of who we are at Temple B’nai Emet.