History of Beth El

A Leap of Faith: A Brief History of Congregation Beth El

 
He-avar hu ma-vo
The past is prologue

 

Congregation Beth El was founded during the 1940’s at a time when being Jewish in Berkeley meant having limited choices. The only Reform synagogues were in San Francisco and Oakland. Two Jewish organizations existed in Berkeley; the B’nai B’rith Lodge and the Hebrew Center, started by a small group of Orthodox men who played poker together. Whenever a sufficient number of players showed up to form a minyan, the group held services. The Berkeley Jewish community expanded dramatically after World War II with an influx of European émigrés.

In the Beginning 

Congregation Beth El grew out of a simple question raised by a small group of friends in 1944: “Isn’t it time for a city the size of Berkeley to have a Reform Jewish congregation?” The group included Rabbi Joseph Gitin (then Berkeley Hillel’s rabbi) and Rosalie Gitin, Dr. Alexander Levens (then professor of mathematics and Vice Chancellor for Students at UC Berkeley) and Ethel Levens, Bob and Ruth Fischer, and Raphael and Frieda Silver. The four couples did not realize that their question would become the foundation for establishing Congregation Beth El.

The founding group decided to assess the interests of the community by convening an exploratory meeting of Berkeley’s Jewish residents—but how to reach them? Fortunately, Bob Fischer was the current secretary for the B’nai B’rith Lodge with access to the only available list of Berkeley Jews. Since most of the names on the list were Berkeley merchants, the conveners scheduled a meeting after the busy winter holiday season in January 1945.
The response to the community-wide invitation was stunning with nearly 100 people attending the Odd Fellows Hall next to the Hotel Shattuck (now called Hotel Shattuck Plaza). The meeting generated an outpouring of enthusiastic support and offers of books.  Most significantly, about 65 individuals made monetary pledges.

The new congregation called itself Temple Beth El and held its first services, in 1945, at the First Unitarian Church on Bancroft. With the strong support of its pastor, The Reverend Raymond Cope gave the new congregation free use of the building for five years. During this period High Holiday services were held at the Twentieth Century Club on Derby Street.

The congregation also benefited from the support of Rabbi Gitin as its first spiritual leader and volunteer leader since there were no funds to pay him. Rabbi Gitin’s warm personality and informal ways were highly valued by the members of the young congregation. Robert Fischer liked to tell the story about Rabbi Gitin’s interpretation of 1940’s Reform Judaism.  “He made religion palatable. He wasn’t a strict conformist. I remember how on Rosh Hashanah afternoon we played poker at his house. He said that Yom Kippur was the sad holiday. Rosh Hashanah was the happy one and we should have fun after we go to services.”

From the beginning, Beth El faced significant challenges including the dilemma of whether to use the limited funds to hire a rabbi or construct a synagogue. The fledgling congregation soon needed to do both when Rabbi Gitin left to serve a congregation in Stockton, California. Rabbi Leo Trepp took his place in 1947, becoming Beth El’s first salaried rabbi. A recent Holocaust survivor, Rabbi Trepp had been imprisoned in Sachsenhausen, the main concentration camp for Berlin. During his three-year term he helped the congregation integrate the sizeable émigré population with those families having lived in Berkeley decades earlier.

At about the same time that Rabbi Trepp arrived, the congregation began planning for the construction of its own building and purchased the site at the corner of Arch and Vine in 1950. On March 11, 1951 the building was dedicated as Temple Beth El and Community Center. The name reveals how the congregation viewed itself as both a spiritual home and a center for Reform Jewish life.



Confirmation Class 1948; Rabbi Joseph Gitten; First Unitarian Church on Bancroft
(from left to right) Walter Kaufman, Merwyn Brossler, Ellen Finkel, Rabbi Joseph Gitin, Ursula Goldschmidt and Albert Goldschmidt. (Albert was a year younger than the rest of the group, but was in this confirmation class because there were not enough students his age to make up another class.)

Following the first service held in 1945, it took a full six years to build a membership of 120 families. No one foresaw that the synagogue would reach its capacity of 250 families in the next 25 years. In 1958 the congregation purchased the adjoining land for a classroom building, dedicated in 1960. Not everyone in the congregation approved this rapid expansion. However the significant growth in the Jewish community eventually validated the wisdom of this risk. Another major challenge became the increasingly diverse spectrum of belief in the Jewish community, from Orthodox to Reform Judaism. Congregants felt strongly about the importance of meeting the needs of this diverse community and respecting tradition. The founders expressed this deeply held belief in the preamble of the by-laws. This Reform congregation would require the wearing of a yarmulke and tallit when participating on the bima. On the other hand new practices were included, such as having unassigned seating at High Holiday services.

A copy of the Articles of Incorporation of Congregation Beth El, filed in 1945 reveal how the synagogue viewed its mission in the early days. It lists the following purposes:
   · The promotion of religious, educational and charitable purposes according to the doctrines and teachings of the Jewish faith.
   · To purchase, acquire and hold suitable real estate to carry out the purposes for which this corporation is formed, and to purchase acquire, and hold suitable real estate for the burial of the dead.  
   · To create a perpetual care fund for the future care, management and supervision of the cemetery.

One key to Congregation Beth El’s ability to build a new synagogue and add new classrooms nine years later was the willingness of congregants to donate large amounts of money. Direct appeals were usually met with a generous response. Despite these successes, the synagogue faced neighborhood opposition to expanding in a residential area. Concerns primarily centered on parking and traffic. In addition to substantial efforts to address their concerns, Berkeley’s Mayor Lawrence Cross (also pastor of the Northbrae Community Church) publicly and enthusiastically supported the development of the new building.

The early founders of Beth El viewed their work less as an act of courage and more as an exercise of youthful exuberance guided by a core set of values. As founder Bob Fischer stated, “We cared about being Reform Jews and building a synagogue was a reflection of those values. We did what we felt was best at the time.”

Rabbinic Leadership 

While the founders had the courage to build a congregation and physical space where nothing existed before, the selection of the first salaried rabbi began an ongoing search for spiritual leadership. Each time the congregation initiated a search for a spiritual leader they would answer questions about the type of leadership needed for the congregation at that time in the life cycle of the organization.
Over the 65 year history of Congregation Beth El, there has been an impressive array of rabbinic leadership, each bringing unique talents. Even though its roots are clearly in the Reform movement, there were times when the congregation was drawn to rabbis with more traditional Conservative and Orthodox roots. While some reflected a strong commitment to the education of children and youth, others were more comfortable as scholar-rabbis. While some rabbis emphasized innovation and change, other emphasized tradition and observance.  All have benefited from the talents and passions of a vibrant and creative membership.
The following rabbis have contributed to the identity and culture of the congregation today.[1]
  • Rabbi Joseph Gitin (1945-1947) served as the congregation’s founding rabbi who volunteered his part-time services and leadership during the congregation’s first years.
  • Rabbi Leo Trepp (1947-1950) arrived from Germany after the war and helped the community welcome the influx of war-time émigrés.
  • Rabbi Sidney Akselrad (1951-1962) reflected a strong adherence to the core Jewish values of social justice and guided the congregation through the McCarthy anti-Communism era and the early days of the Civil Rights movement. He was a founding member of the Berkeley Ecumenical Council of Clergy and marched with Reverend Marin Luther King in Selma in 1965.
  • Rabbi M. Arthur Oles (1963-1966) instituted Saturday Shabbat services at Beth El (until then, services were only on Friday nights).
  • Rabbi Arthur Abrams (1966-1970) supported the congregation’s effort to establish a nursery school with a philosophy of a play-based, developmental program focusing on the whole child. Camp Kee Tov also began during this period with congregational support and leadership, primarily from the Schnur family. Kee Tov began with about 100 campers, built on the same traditions of ruach (spirit) evident today.
  • Rabbi George Vida (1971) served as an interim rabbi who loved his year at Beth El so much that upon his retirement, he and his wife, Emmie, moved to back to Berkeley and promptly joined Congregation Beth El. As a scholar-in-residence he served as a mentor to many congregants and provided valued leadership in the Shabbat morning Torah Study along with Emmie. In 1981, the congregation’s library was named after him. In 2010 the reference section of the library in the new synagogue was re-dedicated as the “Rabbi George and Emmie Vida Reference Library.”
  • Rabbi Leo Abrami (1971-1976) reflected the scholarly approach and introduced more traditional practices, in consonance with Reform Judaism’s general movement during this period. It was during his tenure that the Beth El Torah Study began with Marian and Albert Magid studying together in the synagogue prior to services. Congregants soon joined them, listening, discussing and growing closer. Within two years congregants were taking turns in presenting the drashot (interpreting and unraveling the meaning of the weekly Torah portion) and had become so numerous that soon they convened in the downstairs library.
  • Rabbi Arnold (“Avi”) Levine (1976-1994) brought youth, energy and innovations to the services, raised expectations for Bar Mitzvah students and supported the new regional Midrasha (high school) program. His own two-year-old became a member of the newly formed Gan Katan class (ages 2-3), adding a third grouping to the already established Aleph (ages 3-4) and Bet (ages4-5) classes. During Rabbi Levine’s tenure, the Homeless Meal program was launched by a group of dedicated volunteers as a stop-gap measure until people found housing, jobs, got food stamps or other assistance. 
  • Rabbi Ferenc Raj (1995-2007) fulfilled the congregation’s desire for a senior scholar who would combine teaching and spiritual leadership. Recognizing the range of congregants’ Reform spiritual needs and wanting to offer choice, he introduced two different siddurim (prayer books) for the High Holidays. He strongly supported Marianne Magid and Dan Magid in their effort to initiate a Shabbat morning minyan (in 1998) prior to Torah Study, as well as their crafting of a traditional siddur for the minyan. He also promoted outreach to the African-American community as a way of annually celebrating the birth of Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. He helped the congregation manage the significant transition from Arch and Vine to the new synagogue on Oxford Street.
  • Rabbi Yoel Kahn (2007- present) brought his scholarly interest in prayer to revitalize the congregation’s siddur as he laid the groundwork for creating a learning community with new senior staff, and a call for the Congregation’s first strategic plan. When Rabbi Kahn became Congregation Beth El’s spiritual leader in 2007, he inherited an impressive range of programs, many of which not only originated with congregational support but have expanded greatly over the years. Today the nursery school, which began with one classroom of mixed ages, is filled to capacity with 64 children and 10 staff. Camp Kee Tov, which began with 100 campers, enrolls over 700 campers supported by 90 counselors, most of whom were campers themselves. The monthly Homeless Meal program serves 200 guests staffed by a crew of 40 volunteers, and backed up by an email list of 300 volunteers, a medical clinic and other social services. Midrasha today serves 160 teens, with 16 staff and includes students from Alameda, Contra Costa and San Francisco (including Congregation Sha’ar Zahav since 1993) Counties. The Shabbat Morning Minyan continues today with around 30 participants, while Torah Study enjoys an attendance averaging 45 participants. 
  • Rabbi Rebekah Stern (2014 - present)
Over the years, as rabbis took sabbaticals or when the congregation was in the midst of searching for a rabbi, interim rabbis filled in. These include: Raphael W. Asher (1980-81), Gary Tishkoff (1990-91), Sam Braude and Shelley Waldenberg (1994-95).

From the early 1950s, Congregation Beth El has operated its own lay-led gift shop, established and run by the Sisterhood. Originally gift shop items were displayed on a simple counter in the corner of the social hall, always including aprons created by Sisterhood member Sidie Fried. In1961 Odette Blachman (a founder of Beth El) and Sydel Lemmerman (grandmother of Beth El’s current Rabbi/Musical Director Reuben Zellman) took over the operation. Today, under the direction of Odette Blachman and Robinn Magid, the gift shop generates significant revenue for the synagogue. As a nod to its humble beginnings the inventory always includes aprons.

Throughout the years, rabbinic leadership and congregants have interacted with the larger community in several ways, from building our spiritual home to connecting with other faith-based communities. This connection became particularly important during the construction of the two synagogues.

Our New Home 

The first construction event in the life of the congregation was building the synagogue at Arch and Vine Streets and its subsequent addition. Next was the decision to build a larger home that would accommodate a growing membership, as well as serve a larger portion of the East Bay Jewish community.

The story of the move to Oxford Street in 2005 reflects a great deal about the congregation’s history as well its optimistic outlook for the future. Just as the construction of the original building in 1951 was an act of faith, so too was the construction of the current synagogue designed to serve 700-plus families. 

In 1999 Congregation Beth El had the unusual opportunity to purchase land from the Chinese Alliance Church at 1301 Oxford Street, a few blocks from Arch and Vine. During the next five years the congregation devoted nearly all its energies to fund-raising, community outreach, public hearings, zoning issues, architectural planning and construction. The building process and delays paralleled the earlier experiences at Arch and Vine related to neighborhood concerns about parking, traffic and the impact on the surroundings. The delays in constructing the current facility led to significantly increased building costs.

Despite these challenges, on September 9, 2005 congregants proudly carried the precious Torah scrolls through the neighborhood to a beautiful and inspiring new home. The unique design of the building reflects sensitivity to the concerns of our new neighbors (e.g., parking and noise), while presenting a visually inviting entry, and attention to environmentally sound best practices. In the spirit of Tikkun Olam (repairing the world), the building reflects this idea through the creation of the first geothermal heating system in Berkeley, the restoration of the open portion of the creek, the planting of evergreens around the site perimeter for the privacy and noise concerns of our neighbors, and the achievement of the highest Green standards.
Every part of the synagogue was designed to generate a sense of community and togetherness. In the Arch and Vine site, community was a vital aspect of its existence despite cramped, dark, dead-end corridors and a lack of a significant relationship between the building and landscape. In the new building, each entry is a welcoming experience, where light and the outdoors interplay with social, spiritual and educational aspects of synagogue life. A primary goal of the building was to ensure Beth El’s continuing role as a vital and welcoming community for generations to come.

The new synagogue also serves as a constant reminder of the past.  The original mahogany paneling from the old Vine Street location was lovingly recycled to create the ark and bima furnishings. The copper doors that once welcomed congregants to the Vine street location are set on a wall near the entry to the synagogue. The original stained glass rosette from above the copper doors in the Vine Street synagogue has been incorporated into the interior of the synagogue. Its motto over the doorway of the Vine Street synagogue, “Tzedek, Tzedek, Tirdov” (Justice, Justice shall you pursue”), continues to be at the core of congregational values.

The congregation is also the caretaker of two Holocaust Torahs, from the Czech Trust. One from Tabor, in the former Czechoslovakia was requested by Rabbi Abrami and the other from the town of Kladnoe, in the former Czechoslovakia, was requested by Rabbi George and Emmie Vida. These scrolls are on perpetual loan from the Czech Memorial Scrolls Trust of London, England.

 

History of the Oxford Street Site


1945 Congregation Beth El Groundbreaking on Vine Street

1945 Congregation Beth El GroundbreakingThe Oxford Street location has its own unique history, captured in an abbreviated form on a landmark plaque that Congregation Beth El designed in cooperation with the Berkeley Architectural Heritage Association (BAHA). It is located by the creek, at the Oxford Street entrance to Congregation Beth El.

The site where Beth El now stands once housed the home and gardens of Napoleon Bonaparte Byrne who moved his family and two freed slaves from St. Louis shortly after the Civil War. The freed slaves were among the first African-American residents of Berkeley. Byrne completed his 18-room Italianate home in 1868, which was placed where Beth El stands today.  His wife, Mary, an avid arborist, imported trees for the land, some of which remain on the premises to this day.
Henry Berryman, a wealthy coal merchant and importer, acquired The Byrne House in 1870 and soon after subdivided the farm acreage surrounding the house. He became so prominent in North Berkeley life that the Southern Pacific depot at Vine Street was known as Berryman Station. He, and his partner, Felix Chappellet (whose wife's name was Milvea - sound familiar?), developed the Berkeley Water Works company and built Berryman Reservoir on Codornices Creek.

In 1902, Mrs. Eliza Gay Welcher received the land and house as a wedding gift from a family member (perhaps an uncle) by the name of Sinclair. Until then, the house was called The Byrne House after its first owner, Napoleon Bonaparte Byrne. Mrs. Welcher and her husband Mendell Welcher renamed the property The Cedars.

Mendell Welcher died shortly after they moved in 1904. Mrs. Welcher continued to live at The Cedars until her passing in 1948. Details of Mrs. Welcher’s ownership of The Cedars illustrate the unique history of this beautiful site. During this period, Mrs. Welcher engaged a large staff to help her manage both the house and the grounds. Thanks to Ruth Uyeda Hayashi, who lived on the grounds from infancy through the age of 14, we now know considerably more about this period (based on an April 2014 interview).
 
 
Ruth’s parents, Gonrokuro and Teruyo Uyeda, were employees of Mrs. Welcher. Ruth’s father was chauffeur and gardener.  Her mother assisted with Mrs. Welcher’s frequent parties.  At this time, Berkeley’s restrictive ordinances made it unlawful to rent or sell property to Asians beyond a small, prescribed area in South Berkeley. Because the Uyeda family worked for Mrs. Welcher, they were permitted to live in North Berkeley. 

Gonrokuro Uyeda became ill shortly before the Japanese internment in 1942. Ruth (Yoshine, her childhood name) speculates that her father’s illness prior to their forced departure to Topaz Internment Camp in the Utah desert may be partly explained by his effort to leave the grounds in topnotch condition. Sadly, Ruth and her mother were required to leave for Topaz without him. He died in a California hospital (1944). After the war, Ruth and her mother returned to The Cedars (1945).

Imagine The Cedars as Ruth experienced it. Her most vivid memory is the impressive modified Italian villa at the center of the site, anchored to Oxford Street by a gracious driveway. The “big house,” as Ruth still refers to it, sat proudly on well-groomed grounds shaded by numerous fruit trees—plum, apricot, and persimmon. Wisteria, irises, dahlias and many varieties of roses brightened the landscape accentuated by the open creek flowing down hill. A few smaller structures dotted the grounds including a summer guest house, chicken coop, bird aviary, water pump, and the modest cottage occupied by Ruth and her parents.

The Uyeda cottage was located by Spruce Street where the Congregation Beth El community garden now flourishes. An oil painting by artist Thomas Matsuoka, a gift to the Uyeda family, captures the beauty of the creek-side location of their two bedroom, one bath home. (see right)
 
Ruth recalls how the back door of the cottage faced the creek. She could hike down stairs from the rear of the house, then walk along the rim of the creek’s bank, taking in the serenity and peaceful sound of the rippling water. Ruth enjoyed the one-and-a-half acres as her private playground. Her father, however, warned her not play in the creek. Then, as now, the banks were dangerously steep and he did not want to climb down to rescue her if she got into trouble.  Her father had created a path down to the creek, trimming back the bushes and tree branches that hung over the path, then using them for mulch along the banks. He would regularly clear out debris obstructing the creek. Despite her freedom, Ruth had one other limitation—Mrs. Welcher’s admonition that no other children were allowed to play on the grounds.

The “big house” with its 18 rooms, impressed Ruth. She was awed by the grand foyer and staircase, eight bedrooms, enormous kitchen, and grand piano, where Mrs. Welcher permitted young Ruth to practice. The house staff included a couple (Mr. and Mrs. Hosokawa) who served as the butler, maid, and cook, and a young school boy (Yukio Sera). Mrs. Welcher hired her staff from the Japanese-member Christian Layman Church. Upon their return from Topaz, Ruth and her mother were asked to move into “the big house” to ease the work of the housekeeper, Mrs. Weaver. Ruth’s mother cared for Mrs. Welcher who was then in her nineties. Ruth helped out in the kitchen. Her other duty was to sweep pine needles and leaves in the long, tree-lined driveway that extended from Oxford Street around to the back of the mansion, a seemingly unending job.

Ruth remembers Mrs. Welcher, her white hair pulled back into a tight bun, posture erect, as being fair and good to everyone. When her father was alive, she gave him use of the car on Sundays for family excursions. Mrs. Welcher always looked out for Ruth, and advocated for her to attend the local neighborhood schools. Before the war, the Japanese American children were sent to a few schools in the “flats.” After the war, Ruth was allowed to go to nearby Oxford Elementary School.
 

Upon Mrs. Welcher’s death, her relatives (the Robinsons with connections to the Hawaiian island of Niihau) assumed control of the site. Their offer to gift the land to the city of Berkeley as a “natural add-on” to Live Oak Park was turned down (1950). Ultimately the Robinson family deeded the land to the Christian Missionary Alliance which constructed a cinder block structure behind the “big house.” In 1952 a church member/contractor, without permission, culverted and partially filled the creek. Sometime in the 70s, the East Bay Chinese Alliance was deeded the land. The financial burden to maintain “the big house” was an uphill battle. Still, in 1976 the house was listed on the National Register for Historic Places. Two fires of suspected arson in the mid 1980s eventually destroyed the house, resulting in the loss of the property’s landmark status. At this point the Chinese Alliance Church rented the land to community gardening groups who remained until Congregation Beth El broke ground for its new home.

The congregation’s commitment to preserve significant historical elements of the site can be seen today by the presence of the original Oxford Street entry way, the ornamental metalwork on top of the western fence, the Oxford Street retaining wall, the preservation of most trees and plants that were native to the site, and Codornices Creek.

Moving the Torahs to the Oxford Street Building in 2005.


 
Rabbis
Joseph Gitin (part-time 1945-1947); Leo Trepp (1947-1950); Sidney Akselrad (1951-1962); M. Arthur Oles (1963-1966); Arthur Abrams (1966-1970); Leo Abrami (1971-1976); Arnold Levine (1976-1994); Ferenc Raj (1995-2007); Yoel Kahn (2007- present); Rebekah Stern (2014-present)
 
Jane Litman  (Rabbi-Educator, 2000-2008), Reuben Zellman, (Rabbinic Intern, 2009-2010) and Assistant Rabbi & Music Director, 2010-present 
 
Interim Rabbis: Alfred Barnston (1962), George Vida (1971), Raphael W. Asher (1980-1981), Gary Tishkoff (1990-1991), Sam Braude & Shelley Waldenberg (1994-June, 1995)

Cantors
Flori Monroe Baranco (1945); Robert Rose (1958- 1965, approx.); Ben Roth (1965-1985, approx.); Cory Winter (1985-1988); Brian Reich (1988- 2008); Reuben Zellman (2009- present)
 
Organists
Laurette Goldberg (1945); Rose Friedman (1958); Rose Rust (1965)
 
Past Presidents
William Blackfield (1945-47); Harold Edelstein (1947-48); Samuel Goldeen (1948-49); Rafael Silver (1949-50); Phillip Feiger (1950-52); Maurice Moonitz 1952-53; Samuel Goldeen 1953-54); Sidney Hoos (1954-57); Manfred Finkel 1957-59); Leon Klugman (1959-62); David Golner (1963-64); Leon Klugman (1964-66); Fred Meyer (1966-68); Sami Hassid (1968-70); Fred Meyer (1969); Elmer Grossman (1971-72); Joel Zebrack (1972-74); Alfred Goldschmidt (1974-75); John Goldsmith (1975-77); Marian Magid (1977-79); Lawrence Levine (1979-81); Robert Katz (1981-83); Arthur Goldman (1983-84); Frances Alexander (1984-87); Bill Berland (1987-89); Lois Marcus (1989-91); Thom Seaton (1991-93); Andy Ganes (1993-95); Stephen Joseph (1995-97); Harry Pollack (1997-99); Stuart Berman (1999-2001); Buddy Warner (2001-03); Martin Dodd (2003-05); Julie Kennedy (2005-07); Katherine Haynes-Sanstead, (2007-09); Joanne Backman (2009-11), Dan Magid (2011-13), Paul Sugarman (2013-present)
 
Founding Members (as remembered by Odette Blachman & Bob Fischer)
Maurice and Ruth Adler; Kurt and Gay Austin; Prof. Percy and Ruth Barshay; Ben and Sally Berke; William and Cecilia Blackfield; Max and Odette Blachman; Sam and Phyllis Blachman; Roy and Edna Bloch; Prof. Boris and Joy Bressler; Ed and Pearl Brosler; Blanche Cardwell; Prof. Israel and Evelyn Corner; Benjamin and Frances DeRoy; Simon Eckstein; David and Marie Edelstein; Harold and Marian Edelstein; Harold and Gertrude Ellis; Dr. Philip and Ilse Feiger; Manfred and Vera Finkel; Robert and Ruth Fischer; Morris and Isabel Freifeld; Morris and Rose Friedman; Dr. Nat and Libby Frug; Samuel and Doris Goldeen; Rudolph and Elizabeth Goldschmidt; Harold and Fran Goldstein; Emile and Irene Grossman; Ernst and Herta Hessing; Dr. Brian Hilton; Fred and Ruth Hirsch; Fred and Carolyn Kahn; Julius and Gerda Kauffman; Joseph and Anna Kay; Prof. Alex and Ethel Levens; Sam and Kitty Levy; Elliot and Ethel Lewis; Dr. Julius and Emmy Lewis; Dr. Robert and Sylvia Lewis; Rebecca Lubin; Ben and Mollie Malik; Dr. Henry and Gertrude Mankin; Rafi and Tuaba Mayeri; Prof. Maurice and Ruth Moonitz; Burrell and Sally Rubenstein; Dr. Fritz and Greta Schmerl; Sol and Rose Seldin; Max and Bianca Shulster; Rafael and Frieda Silver; Friedrich and Edith Strauss; Moritz and Lilli Strauss; Paul and Dorothy Traum; Hugo and Frances Wolf; Dr. Henry and Sandra Yaffe; Chester and Ann Zeff
 
Compiled 2010 by Susan Austin, with assistance from Robinn Magid and Rabbi Yoel Kahn, using the following sources:
  • original documents (early Builders, dedication programs booklets, board minutes)
  • interviews with founders Robert Fisher, Odette Blachman, past presidents (Frances Alexander & Lois Marcus), current Beth El program directors of Kee Tov and Nursery School
  • extensive research on the synagogue from the files of Robinn Magid
  • material on the construction of the Oxford site provided by Alex Bergtraun