Congregation Beth Israel: Southern California’s Oldest Jewish Congregation

Congregation Beth Israel of San Diego

 

Jewish pioneers began arriving in San Diego in small numbers as early as 1850.

As more arrived, they congregated for High Holy Day worship services in homes and other meeting rooms.

In 1851, The San Diego Herald reported: “Three Jews met at the home of Lewis Franklin for High Holy Day services.”

In 1861, Marcus Schiller gathered local Jewish men to form a congregation to be called Adath Yeshurum, which eventually evolved into Congregation Beth Israel.

San Diego went through many years of boom and bust, as hopes for a railroad connection to the East rose and fell.

Another period of extensive draught caused havoc on the struggling town/city with normally perfect weather.

Marcus Schiller of San Diego

Marcus Schiller of San Diego

The small Jewish community grew and shrank with each of these early economic changes.

Finally, under the leadership of Marcus Schiller, Beth Israel was formally incorporated in 1887.

 

First Building

In 1889, Congregation Beth Israel was built at Second Avenue and Beech Street.

Its first services were led by Abraham Blochman, Marcus Schiller, and two men identified only as Lippman and Jacobs of Oceanside.

The congregation grew and the building was used until 1926, when the Beth Israel moved to a new structure at Third and Laurel in Banker’s Hill.

Beth Israel Synagogue in San Diego soon after completion, #WS1514

Beth Israel Synagogue in San Diego soon after completion,
#WS1514

The original building is now a San Diego Historical Site.

It was moved to Heritage Park and is owned by the County of San Diego, and is a favorite location for weddings and other gatherings.

The Original Temple Beth Israel today in Heritage Park, San Diego.

The Original Temple Beth Israel today in Heritage Park, San Diego.

Second Building

After World War I, San Diego rapidly expanded into a military town. As the congregation grew, a larger building was needed.

In 1926, the new Beth Israel building was dedicated by its 60 member families on Banker’s Hill, overlooking the city.

The Second Location of Congregation Beth Israel.

The Second Location of Congregation Beth Israel, Banker’s Hill, San Diego, CA

Congregation Beth Israel eventual occupied a full city block in downtown San Diego, including a school building built in the 1960’s and several apartments.

 

Third Building

Beth Israel’s third location was dedicated in 2001 in University City, just east of La Jolla.

The facility now has five buildings, totaling more than 65,000 square feet and membership of about 1,200 families.

The Current Beth Israel, located in National City near La Jolla.

The Current Beth Israel, National City, CA

Source

  • Stanley & Laurel Schwartz, “Old Town, New Town: An Enjoyment of San Diego History,” edited by William M. Kramer, Western States Jewish History Special Book, 1994.