Our History in Brief
In the Beginning
The roots of Temple Beth El were planted in 1922 when the first organized Jewish religious services in San Pedro were held at the home of Mr. and Mrs. Daniel Levin.
There were about 25 Jewish families then living in San Pedro.
In 1923, the San Pedro Jewish Sisterhood was established, dedicated to supporting the Jewish community and giving aid to the poor and needy in our community. This remarkable group of women donated our first Torah scroll in 1928.
Our First Building
~ San Pedro Jewish Community Center ~
As services and activities continued and grew, the community raised funds to build a Jewish Center.
In 1935 the founding men and women of Temple Beth El built the San Pedro Jewish Community Center at the corner of 19th and Cabrillo Street.
In 1936, the Beth El Women’s League was formed for the primary purpose of developing a Religious School.
By 1938 about 75 Jewish families lived in San Pedro and the name “Congregation Beth El” was adopted.
“Shanghai Red” Eisenberg
~ Shanghai Red Bar ~
San Pedro’s most “infamous” Jewish resident, “Shanghai Red” Eisenberg, hailed from Temple Beth El.
He operated one of San Pedro’s most well-known nightlife spots, the Shanghai Red Cafe at 5th and Beacon Streets, known to sailors the world over.
The bar was a waterfront fixture in San Pedro for decades. San Francisco-born Charles Eisenberg opened it in the 1920’s in the toughest part of the rough-and-tumble waterfront section of San Pedro.
Our Current Location
It soon became clear that our Jewish community would outgrow this facility, and in 1942, several lots on Seventh Street were purchased for future development, though that was not to happen until 1955.
In 1955, the San Pedro Jewish Sisterhood sold the building at 19th and Cabrillo Streets and donated the proceeds to the construction of our current facility on Seventh Street.
In 1956, the Torah Scrolls were brought to our new home, consisting of classrooms, offices, a kitchen, and a combined Social Hall and Sanctuary. Our current Sanctuary space was dedicated in 1966. In 1967, we were honored to provide a home for Czech Memorial Torah Scroll #1067 from Ceske-Budejovice.
In 1959, we became Temple Beth El, a Reform congregation affiliated with the Union for Reform Judaism.
Our First Rabbis
~ Rabbi David Lieb, z’l ~
We welcomed our first resident Rabbi in 1940.
Our longest tenured Rabbi was David Lieb, z’l, Rabbi Emeritus.
In 1971, Rabbi David Lieb began his 34-year tenure at Temple Beth El. These were years filled with tremendous growth, in large part due to Rabbi Lieb’s leadership. In 1974, the congregation sponsored its first trip to Israel. In 1975 we welcomed our first professional Jewish educator. In 1976, we elected our first woman President and in 1977, we hired our first Cantor. In 1994, Rabbi Lieb received the Doctor of Divinity degree from Hebrew Union College. Rabbi Lieb died at his home in Indio, California on Saturday, March 8, 2008.
~ 2015 Remodel Nearing Completion ~
As we grew in the 1980’s, we chose to enlarge our Seventh Street facility, and on November 10, 1985 we consecrated an expanded facility with a new dedicated Sanctuary, with the blessing of Rabbi Alex Schindler, z”l President of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations. In 2003, we remodeled this Sanctuary, making it more contemporary and intimate.
In 2015, we undertook a major remodel of our facility to improve and update our infrastructure, provide handicapped access, transform a library into a Beit Midrash, and beautify and renew major parts of our building.
~ Rabbi Cassi Kail ~
In 2005, Rabbi Charles Briskin became Temple Beth El’s new rabbi, joining Cantor Ilan Davidson and educator Debi Rowe.
In 2019, Temple Beth El was honored to welcome its first woman Rabbi, Rabbi Cassi Kail. She brings to our pulpit her passion and intelligence in all that she does. She is a strong advocate of strengthening Jewish worship, connecting with Israel, and supporting interfaith work. She loves teaching people of all ages, singing, and playing guitar. Rabbi Kail and her husband Josh are proud parents of their children, Noam and Talia.