Temple Israel of Stockton
The City of Stockton was founded in 1846.
Stockton was the main supplier of goods for mines between the Merced River and the Mokulumne River in the Gold Country.
Three early Jewish merchants were, Isaac Zacharias, J. Rosenbaum, and Bernard Frankenheimer.
By 1851, Ryhim Ahoovim, a Jewish Bevevolent Society had come into existence. (Tradition says that the society was founded in the latter months of 1849.)
By 1851 the society had acquired a cemetery for Jewish pioneers.
This cemetery is the oldest Jewish cemetery in continuous operation west of the Rocky Mountains.
In 1851, the Stockton Jewish community celebrated the High Holy Days at the Corinthian Theater.
Jewish-owned businesses closed for the holidays.
In 1855, Ryhim Ahoovim became a congregation.
The First Building
Simon R. Rosenthal was elected as President and the congregation decided to build a synagogue.
Stockton’s founder, Charles M. Weber, donated a lot where Stockton’s. first synagogue was built.
The lumber had to be shipped around Cape Horn since there were no sawmills in the area. It was unloaded at the Stockton waterfront, and was hauled to the building site by congregational members in order to save money.
The synagogue was completed and dedicated in 1855 with services conducted by Rabbi Julius Eckman of San Francisco.
The new congregation consisted of forty-three members.
In 1863, because of flooding, the building was moved physically to Hunter Street.
This building was used as Stockton’s synagogue until 1905.
In 1876, Congregation Ryhim Ahoovim made Herman Davidson its Rabbi-Cantor, a position he was to hold for twenty years. [Click here for Rabbi-Cantor Davidson’s exhibit]
In 1898, Rabbi Rudolph Farber was hired and Herman Davidson, who had left earlier, was called back to be the Cantor under Rabbi Farber.
The Second Building
In 1900, Ryhim Ahooyim, now known as Temple Israel, established a fund for a new building.
In 1904, on its fiftieth anniversary, the new Temple Israel of Stockton was completed and dedicated.
In 1906 the Congregation joined the Union of American Hebrew Congregations.
From 1901 to 1929, a number of Rabbis served the congregation.
Most notable was Rabbi Edgar E. Magnin, who moved to Congregation B’nai B’rith (now Wilshire Boulevard Temple) in Los Angeles, where he served for 60 years and created one of the great synagogues in the West with over 3,000 families.
While in Stockton, Rabbi Magnin visited Fresno and organized Temple Beth Israel for that city.
The Jewish Community Center
In 1925, Temple Israel bought two lots at Madison and Willow Streets for the construction of a Jewish Community Center. The original, old temple building was moved to the new location, and covered with a brick veneer to blend in with the Community Center building.
A few years later this old sanctuary was moved to American Street and a new one was built to take its place next to the Jewish Community Center.
As World War II approached, members of the Congregation helped refugees from Germany settle in Stockton where they became valuable members of both the Stockton and Jewish communities. World War II saw many young men of the Congregation go to war, some not returning.
Rabbi Levy also was one of those who took leave to serve as an Army chaplain.
Rabbi Isaiah Zeldon, fresh from Hebrew Union College served until Rabbi Levy returned.
Rabbi Zeldin was still here in November, in 1945 when Temple Israel celebrated it’s 90th anniversary.
The aftermath of World War II brought back Rabbi Levy.
Rabbi Zeldin moved on, eventually to Los Angeles, where he founded Stephen S. Wise Temple that grew steadily to became one of the largest Reform synagogues in the nation, with a pre-school, a day school and even a Jewish high school.
A number of Rabbis served Temple Israel until 1956 when Rabbi Bernard Rosenberg came to Stockton and remained for twenty-one years.
The Third Building
In 1960, the Congregation bought three acres of land at El Dorado Street and March Lane.
Temple Israel, built slowly, first with classrooms, then offices. The sanctuary was completed and the synagogue was dedicated in 1972.
Rabbi Rosenberg retired in 1976
In 1993, Rabbi Jason Gwasdoff became the spiritual leader of Temple Israel.
Temple Israel of Stockton will soon be celebrating 160 years in California and its original building still proudly stands.
“Jews in the News”
Community Service by Stockton, California Jewry — 1857
Notice to Israelites:
Our friends of Stockton, through Mr. A. B. Blackman, deeply regretting the late occurrences at the Asylum, over which, however, they had no control, bring to the notice of their co-religionists in the State of California, that should the hand of Heaven, in its inscrutable counsel, ever afflict any of Israel’s sons or daughters, so that they should have to take refuge in the Asylum of their city, on notice being given to the Parnass, or to the Secretary of the Synagogue Raim Ahoobim (sic), they will be ready to offer every assistance, and pay every attention in their power.
—The Weekly Gleaner, San Francisco, January 30, 1857, WSJH, Vol. 3 #1. The occurrences referred to, were the deaths of two Jewish inmates of the State mental hospital in Stockton and their interment in a gentile cemetery. Congregation Rhyim Ahoovini (now Temple Israel) of Stockton, exhumed the bodies and reburied them in the Stockton Jewish cemetery, when they were apprised of the facts.
Another Interesting Note from the 1920s.
Temple Israel received letter and a donation of a bag of money from the local chapter of the Ku Klux Klan, Stockton Klan No. 3.
Part of this letter read:
While we are a White, Gentile, Protestant Organization, we are always glad to be of some service to our Brothers of the Jewish Faith.
–Signed: Otto B. Sparks, Kleagle of the Invisible Empire.
For more information see the following issues of Western States Jewish History:
- Jewish Stock of Stockton; Dr. William Kramer; 42/2-3
- Early Stockton Jewry and Its Cantor-Rabbi Herman Davidson, Part 1; Clar, Reva; 5/2
- Early Stockton Jewry and Its Cantor-Rabbi Herman Davidson, Part 2; Clar, Reva; 5/3
- Oldest Jewish Cemetery in the West: Stockton, California; Schwartz, Mrs. David “Bea”; 1/2
- Rabbi Edgar F. Magnin in Stockton, 1914-1915: Rehearsal for Los Angeles; Clar, Reva & Kramer, William M.; 17/2