Emanuel M. Berg: Maker of a Historical Mistake on San Francisco Synagogues’ Beginnings – 1853


Emanuel Marum Berg

Emanuel Berg WS 14/2068

Emanuel Berg
WS 14/2068

Values Codes I – E – L  P


Emanuel Marum Berg was born in Bamberg, Germany, in 1817.

Berg married Karoline Uhlfelder in 1849. Shortly afterwards, they left for America, landing in 1850.


San Francisco 

That same year, they arrived in San Francisco via the Isthmus of Panama.

(That was considered a very fast journey in 1850.)

Emanuel Berg opened a dry goods store.



The Bergs joined Congregation Emanu-El when it was founded in 1850.

In 1852, Emanuel Berg was elected the third president of Congregation Emanu-El.

As president, it was his duty to rent space for the 1853 High Holy Days.

He obtained a hall at 40 Bush Street.

The lease ran from September 1 to October 31, “Eighteen Fifty-Three,” and was formalized in the usual document – except for one error that no one noticed at the time .

In stating the year, the word “three” was inadvertently omitted, making the lease read “Eighteen Fifty,” instead of “Eighteen Fifty-Three.”

Forty-seven years later, when Rabbi Jacob Voorsanger was attempting to write the history of Congregation Emanu-El, he picked up the mistaken date on that document and assumed his congregation was founded in 1850, not 1851.

This, in turn, caused Congregation Sherith Israel to claim the same 1850 date, since the two congregations were originally founded as one.

The mistake was discovered by Rabbi William Kramer, co-founder of the Western States Jewish History Association, after studying the early newspaper accounts of the two  synagogues’ founding in 1851 – not 1850.



Emanuel and Karoline Berg had three children: Fanny, Moses, and Henriette.

Fanny was the first Jewish child born in San Francisco.


Emanuel M. Berg died in 1855 at the early age of 38.

His widow later married Max Morgenthau, a San Francisco wholesale merchant.


  • Norton B. Stern, “Emanuel M. Berg,” Western States Jewish History 41/1.

David Epstein is curator of this Emanuel Berg exhibit.


Jews in the News

  About This Time

The First Jewish Newspaper in the West — 1856

The Voice of Israel is the title of an able weekly advocate of the Hebrews, in this city — it is edited by the Rev. Herman Bien, of the Congregation Emanu-El, and H. J. Labatt, Esq., and has attained, within three months, a circulation of 2,000 copies. When we consider that there are 30,000 [sic] Hebrews in this State . . . that there are three synagogues in San Francisco, two in Sacramento, one each in Stockton, Shasta, Marysville, Grass Valley and Jackson, in all ten churches — that three-fourths of the consignees, by clippers, are Israelites — that twenty-five percent of the gold sent home, belongs to them, we at once see how important to this community is this quiet, industrious and talented race.

—Daily Alta California, San Francisco, January 3, 1857 [WSJH, Vol. 5,#3]. The first issue of the newspaper referred to was dated October 3, 1856.