PRESIDENT’S MESSAGE – November 2017
I’m going to Memphis this month for a family reunion. When I tell people I was born in Memphis many say, “I didn’t know there were Jews in Memphis.” In fact, the first known Jew to settle in Memphis did so in 1849. The Jews that later began to populate the city were peddlers who established retail businesses. As was usually the case when Jews began to settle in an area, the first Jewish organization established was the Jewish Benevolent Society. In 1853, the first congregation, B’nai Israel, was founded. B’nai Israel still exists as Temple Israel, a Reform congregation.
My father, his mother, and his sisters came to Memphis sometime around 1920. They came from Brooklyn, of which no one ever says, “I didn’t know there were Jews there.” My grandmother, a widow, married a widower who had a son and daughter. My father grew up in Memphis and always considered it home. The family belonged to Baron Hirsch Congregation, an Orthodox congregation founded in 1884, although part of the family was affiliated with another Orthodox congregation, Anshei Sphard, founded in 1893. Both congregations still exist.
My family left Memphis in 1958, so I do not have memory of life in Memphis. We spent about two years in Dallas, of which I also have no memory, and moved to Sherman Oaks in 1960. Later, we moved to the Fairfax (and Pico) area of Los Angeles, and stayed roughly in that area until we moved to Anaheim in 1971. You might say, “I didn’t know there were Jews in Anaheim.” In fact, Benjamin Dreyfus moved to Anaheim in 1858, opened a store, and was part of a group that started a winery in Anaheim where kosher wine was produced. My family attended Temple Beth Emet in Anaheim, a Conservative congregation founded in 1958. That congregation still exists, although its membership is diminishing.
After Diane and I married, we lived in Glendale and then Sun Valley. In 1995 we joined Temple Beth Emet of Burbank, also founded in 1958. I am sure at one time or another, when you told someone about our Temple they remarked, “I didn’t know there were Jews in Burbank.” You can tell them that in 1947, the Jewish Community Council was founded, which exists today as Temple Emanu El. Along with our Temple and Chabad, we have a thriving and active Jewish community in Burbank.
Recently, a family friend turned 90 and she went to live with her daughter in Greenville, North Carolina. Are there Jews in Greenville, North Carolina? Well, there were some Jews in the area around the beginning of the 1900s, their tenure was short lived. A permanent Jewish community did not become established until 1936. In 1977, Bayt Israel, originally a Conservative congregation, was established. It is now affiliated with both United Synagogue (Conservative) and the Union for Reform Judaism.
Jewish communities thrive in a lot of areas we might not expect and every community has a story of its pioneers and organizations. You never know when you might say, “I didn’t know there were Jews in __________!”
From all of us at Temple Beth Emet, we wish you all a Happy Thanksgiving.
— IRA L. GOLDSTEIN, President