Temple Beth Israel- A Brief History
Temple Beth Israel has a proud history dating back more than 130 years in York, Pennsylvania.
While there was at least one Jewish family in York in the years leading up to the Revolutionary War, it was not until 1847, when the Lehmayer family settled here, that the present Jewish community came into existence. In 1877 there were 24 families who banded together to found the Hebrew Reformed Congregation Temple Beth Israel on September 1.
For the first 30 years, the congregation worshiped in the home of Solomon Kahn on West Market Street, and later in rented rooms in downtown buildings with lay leaders conducting the services. The religious school was organized around 1901 and it welcomed all Jewish children regardless of their affiliation.
The year 1904 saw the start of formal planning for a building to insure stability for the coming generations. A site was purchased on the corner of South Beaver Street and Newton Alley. On August 30, 1907, the congregation, consisting of 41 families, dedicated the first Temple building.
The year 1907 was a decisive one in Temple history. In addition to erecting a house of worship, the congregation joined what was then called the Union of American Hebrew Congregations (now called the Union for Reform Judaism), and adopted the Union Prayer Book for its rituals. It also employed its first ordained spiritual leader, Rabbi Emmanuel Schreiber.
During the years of WWII many of the members of the congregation took part in fighting the war. Most famous was Rabbi Alexander D. Goode, who left the Temple Beth Israel pulpit in 1942 and became a chaplain. He and three Christian chaplains became American heroes - The Four Chaplains - when they chose to remain aboard the troopship Dorchester after it was struck by a torpedo and sank in the North Atlantic.
With the growth of the York Jewish community and the congregation, there came the need for a larger facility. In 1962, construction of the present facility was begun on Hollywood Drive with the building of the Religious School wing, the auditorium, and the social facilities. Work was completed with the dedication of the Samuel and Clara Lebovitz Sanctuary in 1966.
Because of its location, the sanctuary became known as the "Jewel on the Hill." The unique hexagonal design suggests a crown of jewels resembling the facets of a diamond enhanced by richly stained glass.
Prior to the arrival of our current rabbi, TBI has been guided by 15 rabbis. Those who served most recently include Rabbis Eli Cooper (1957-1973) and Irwin Goldenberg (1973-2008).
In July, 2008, Temple Beth Israel bid shalom to Rabbi Goldenberg, who lovingly served the congregation for 35 years. Succeeded by Rabbi Jeffrey Astrachan, TBI continues to grow and thrive. As of 2010, membership roles include approximately 250 households and the religious school enrollment includes 93 students in Kindergarten through 10th Grade.
In 2009, Temple Beth Israel - continuing its relationship with the Union for Reform Judaism - looked to the Hebrew Union College - Jewish Institute of Religion, in New York City, to engage its first-ever student-cantor, Tracy Fishbein. As a mentoring congregation, TBI took on the responsibility of training a future Cantor who will, upon investiture, serve the Reform Movement. As a third-year seminary student, Tracy brought enhanced musical and spiritual opportunities to both worship services and religious school. As the relationship grew throughout her first year with Temple Beth Israel, Tracy agreed she would remain with Temple Beth Israel through the 2010-2011 year. Throughout her two-year tenure, Tracy has formed both adult- and youth- choirs, continues to introduce the congregation to current trends in Jewish music, and educates both adults and children in formal and informal settings.
With its historic past, dynamic present, and exciting future, Temple Beth Israel hopes you will join the other members of this growing, vibrant, and welcoming congregation.