Judaism’s Colorful History in the San Diego and Tijuana Region
April 30, 2018
By Donald H. Harrison
San Diego’s Jewish community traces its history through the synagogues established—and sometimes abandoned—between 1850 and the present. Today, congregations gather at many places throughout the county and identify with Reform, Conservative, and Orthodox movements, among others. This article documents synagogues that served, and continue to serve, as places of study, prayer, ritual observance and community building in San Diego and the border region. The Jewish experience in San Diego began in what today is
called “Old Town,” but which in pioneer days was known as “San Diego” as there was no other town, old or new, nearby. Jewish San Diego had its origins in 1850 when Louis Rose arrived,and later welcomed other merchants who would make their mark on the city, including such pioneers as Lewis Franklin, Charles Fletcher, Marks Jacobs, brothers Joseph and Hyman Mannasse, their cousin Moses Mannasse, and Marcus Schiller.1 Initially, there were not enough Jewish men to warrant a synagogue, so instead they gathered at each other’s homes or businesses for religious meetings, typically on holidays rather than on the Sabbath, or for special occasions such as the marriage of Hyman Mannasse and Hannah Schiller in 1863 at the offices of J.S. Mannasse & Company, in a ceremony officiated by layman Louis Rose.2 Among the buildings where High Holy Day services were held were the two-story RobinsonRose House, which today serves as the visitors center for Old Town San Diego State Historic Park, and the Franklin Hotel, which is an abandoned lot next door to the Wells Fargo Museum. In a side room of the Robinson-Rose House is a portrait of Louis Rose, who was the building’s second owner, as well as a mezuzah, symbolizing the former Jewish ownership of that building. A large diorama in the visitors center depicts how Old Town might have looked between 1820 and 1870, and prominent among the buildings is the now demolished Franklin Hotel, which at three stories was considered the “skyscraper” of Old Town
On October 8, 1859, the celebrated “San Diego incident” occurred at the Franklin Hotel, situated two doors away from the county courthouse. Only ten men were present—a bare minyan (or quorum) required for communal prayer—on that High Holy Day. At the courthouse, meanwhile, a grand jury had convened to consider a routine assault. Learning that Moses Mannasse had witnessed the assault, the jury swore out a subpoena for him to testify, instructing Deputy Sheriff Joseph Reiner to serve it on him. Had any other of the ten men at prayer been the witness, the result may have been different, but Moses was a man who took his Judaism very seriously. He, in fact, had brought San Diego County’s first Torah from his native Prussia.
When Reiner told him that his testimony was needed, Mannasse declined to accompany him, pointing out that he was the tenth man in the minyan, that Yom Kippur was the holiest day of the Jewish calendar, and that it was the Sabbath to boot. He said he would testify on another day. Reiner delivered
Mannasse’s message to the grand jury, which proved unsympathetic. Compel him to come, Reiner was instructed. Reiner went back to the Franklin Hotel, and tried to force Mannasse to come with him, but Mannasse successfully resisted. Next Reiner deputized a posse, marching Mannasse out of the Franklin Hotel and to the witness’s chair in the courthouse. Asked about the assault he had witnessed, Mannasse refused to testify. He just sat in the witness chair, maintaining silence, until night fell and the holy day was over. Then he told the grand jurors what he knew.
That was not the end of the incident, not by a long shot. One of the nine other Jews in the service with Moses was Lewis Franklin—for whom the Franklin Hotel was named—and he was incensed, considering the disruption of the service to be one of the greatest insults suffered by Jews since Romans sacked the Second Temple in Jerusalem in the year 70 CE. He wrote letter after letter to Jewish publications around the United States, decrying this blow against religious freedom, and his impassioned pleas set off a national debate among American Jews.4 Had Moses done right? Should he have protested as he did? Or should he simply have gone with Deputy Sheriff Reiner to give his testimony, with the Yom Kippur service to resume upon his return? The answer in the Jewish community was divided. While most applauded his stand for religious freedom, others said he should not have made such a fuss, that he simply should have done his duty as an American citizen. Even today, upon hearing the story of the San Diego incident, American Jews may have divided opinions
In 1861, under the leadership of Marcus Schiller, San Diego Jews organized their own congregation, which they named Adath Yeshurun, sometimes spelled “Adath Jeshurun,” but roughly translating to “Gathering of the Righteous.”5 Shortly afterwards, Louis Rose transferred for $5 to the congregation five acres of land for a cemetery in the Roseville area of Point Loma.6 Many years later, those interred in the cemetery, including Rose, were disinterred and reburied at the Home of Peace Cemetery in southeastern San Diego. The Point Loma land was sold and today is occupied by the Sharp-Cabrillo Hospital.7 After founding the congregation, Schiller often hosted its functions at his home.
In 1872, fire broke out between the ceiling and the roof in a general store rented by Rudolph Schiller. The fire leapt from building to building along the southwestern side of the Plaza, destroying many of the businesses.8 Historians mark the fire, which occurred on April 20,to signify the demise of Old Town.9 From 1850 through the time of this fire, “Old Town” had been the seat of San Diego County, the venue where government agencies and businesses made their headquarters. Meanwhile, “Horton’s Addition” had been growing along San Diego Bay and was steadily gaining on Old Town, luring away business and attracting residents and government offices. After the fire, it had no real competition from the little town under the Presidio.
Joseph Mannasse and Marcus Schiller were among the merchants who early in this process had established a place of business in New Town. Schiller, the junior partner of the business firm, was the senior member of the Jewish community, serving as the long-time president of Adath Yeshurun. He was a driving force for the construction of San Diego’s first synagogue building at the corner of 2nd Avenue and Beech Street. When that synagogue finally was put into use for Rosh Hashanah services in 1889, the congregation, with Schiller still serving as president, renamed itself as Beth Israel (House of Israel). The Jews no longer just gathered, now the community had a “house” of its own.
As synagogues go, the redwood structure was not very large, measuring 56 by 30 feet, and essentially having one room for prayer and two small anterooms. It was distinguished by a wooden replica of the Tablets of the Law (Ten Commandments) raised above the gable and seven stained glass windows designed with Stars of David. There was a loft for the choir above the main floor. Today, the synagogue has been moved to Heritage Park, in the Old Town area of San Diego, and is available as a rental for people of all religious persuasions for marriage ceremonies or other gatherings. A cabinet in front of the sanctuary once held the congregation’s Torah scrolls. Over this Aron Kodesh (Ark of the Covenant) is suspended a Ner Tamid (Eternal Light), which together characterize most Jewish places of worship. Sometimes Jewish visitors to Beth Israel No. 1 (the Reform congregation currently resides in La Jolla in its third home) falsely assume that the people who sat upstairs were women. That might have been true had the congregation been part of the Orthodox movement, in which men and women sit separately. In fact, Beth Israel began and remains a Reform congregation in which men and women sit together on the main floor.10 A small congregation that gathers for the High Holidays, Chavurah Kol Hanishma (Voice of All Who Breathe Friendship Circle), meets at the old Temple under the spiritual guidance of Rabbi Lauri Coskey who, in 2016, was named as the chief executive officer of the United Way of San Diego.
The differences between Orthodox and Reform became manifest during the High Holidays of 1905, at which time recently arrived Orthodox Jews from Eastern Europe had sought and received permission to schedule a separate service in the temple building. It was decided that on the day of Yom Kippur, the Orthodox would have their service first, and that at an agreed time, their service would end and the Reform service would begin. This arrangement did not work out that way however, as the Orthodox service continued when
members of the majority Reform congregation arrived. Outraged by demands that their service be terminated so that the Reform service could begin, the Orthodox members trooped from Second and Beech down a hill to the home of their leader, Elias Jacobson.12 They agreed to form their own Orthodox congregation, which they named Tifereth Israel, meaning the Glory of Israel. They eventually established a synagogue on 18th Street near Market Street, which can be described as the portion of downtown San Diego that is “south of Broadway,” a business district. Used to living “above the store,” in Eastern Europe, many of the Orthodox Jews tried to do so again in their adopted home of San Diego. If they could not live exactly above the store, they at least could live nearby. For a brief period, similar to New York City, there were the poorer, more Orthodox, downtown Jews, and the richer, more Reform, uptown Jews.13 But this period did not last long.
In 1915, San Diego hosted the PanamaCalifornia Exposition in newly renamed Balboa Park, a grand enterprise intended to show the world that San Diego should be the West Coast trade depot for ships transiting from the Atlantic to the Pacific Ocean via the newly completed Panama Canal. While this did not happen, optimism about the city’s future continued to run deep, especially after the U.S. Navy and Army both established bases in San Diego during the World War I era.14 The onset of Prohibition in 1920 also had a beneficial economic effect on San Diego. People who wanted to consume alcoholic beverages and party in Tijuana, Mexico, often stayed overnight in San Diego. The city’s population continued to grow.
In 1926, in response to the growth of its membership, Beth Israel moved several blocks from its first home at 2nd Avenue and Beech Street to its second home at 3rd Avenue and Laurel Street. Feeling more established, and more certain of San Diego’s economic future, the congregation retained architect William Wheeler to build a structure of Moorish design, complementing the Spanish Colonial and Mission Revival architecture in nearby Balboa Park. During his career, Wheeler also designed such San Diego landmarks as the Balboa Theatre, Church of the Immaculate Conception, All Saints Episcopal Church and the Klauber-Wangenheim Building.
In 1939, Beth Jacob (House of Jacob) Congregation was founded in a small home at 32nd and Myrtle Streets in the North Park area, reflecting a demographic shift of Jews from downtown to the North Park, Talmadge and Kensington neighborhoods.17 At the outset, Beth Jacob was a Conservative congregation, but it subsequently chose to join the Orthodox movement after the much larger Tifereth Israel Synagogue, under
Rabbi Monroe Levens, left the Orthodox movement to affiliate with the Conservative movement. The switch in affiliation of the two congregations was achieved more or less amicably. Baruch Stern, a survivor of the Holocaust, had taught Sunday school at Tifereth Israel Synagogue while studying for rabbinic ordination. Rabbi Stern was selected in 1947 by Beth Jacob to be its first Orthodox rabbi.
The end of World War II witnessed a portion of the Jewish community moving to east San Diego. While Beth Israel remained at its Bankers Hill location at 3rd Avenue and Laurel Street, Tifereth Israel Synagogue moved to 30th and Howard Streets in the North Park area, and Beth Jacob moved from a home on Myrtle Street to a building at 4473 30th Street.19 It was during this period that Tifereth Israel Synagogue became the home to numerous refugee Holocaust survivors, who formed San Diego’s New Life Club.
As San Diego entered the 1950s, there were three synagogues in town, each representing one of the three major branches of Judaism. The oldest, Beth Israel, was Reform; the second, Tifereth Israel, was by then Conservative; and Beth Jacob was Orthodox. Some have described this period as the “golden age” of San Diego Jewry; the three rabbis were on amicable enough terms with each other to guest lecture at each other’s congregations and to schedule some joint activities, including dinners at Rabbi Levens’ residence.20 Rabbi Morton Cohn, who had come to San Diego as a military chaplain, headed Beth Israel, while Levens and Stern were at Tifereth Israel and Beth Jacob respectively. While they disagreed on various religious doctrines—for example Stern and Levens ate only kosher foods, while Cohn did not—they agreed that they should work together to strengthen and enlarge San Diego’s Jewish community.
In fact, their synagogues were the birthplaces of other Jewish communal organizations. For example, in 1934, Jacob Weinberger, a local attorney and board member of both the San Diego Unified School District and Congregation Beth Israel, helped to organize a local chapter of the United Jewish Relief Fund, which eventually morphed into what today is the Jewish Federation of San Diego County. Weinberger went on to become the first resident federal judge in San Diego. In 1946, the Fund hired Al Hutler as its first executive director and rented storefront offices on University Avenue.21 That same year, using Beth Israel as a base where children could assemble, a Jewish summer camp was established. The children walked from the temple to nearby Balboa Park for their activities. This summer camp eventually grew into the Jewish Community Center.
The Jewish population’s eastward trend continued in the late 1950s when the city’s Jewish Community Center was built on 54th Street, close to Horace Mann Junior High School. The center had basketball courts, an Olympic size swimming pool, meeting rooms, and offices for numerous Jewish clubs and organizations. For many years, until after it was replaced in the 1980s by a JCC in La Jolla, the 54th Street facility hosted the annual Holocaust commemoration on Yom HaShoah.23 On a promontory behind the center sat the Hebrew Home for the Aged, the thought being its proximity to the JCC would encourage residents to participate in such activities as they were able, and also spur JCC members to visit the seniors residing at the home. In 1989, the Hebrew Homes opened Seacrest Retirement Village in Encinitas, a full service home for independent and assisted living. This was followed in 1996 with the opening of a second Seacrest Village facility in the Rancho Bernardo/Poway area.
The North County Jewish Community Center, which began in 1954 in Oceanside and was loosely affiliated with the Reform movement, relocated 10 years later to Vista, where it became known as Temple Judea and affiliated with the Conservative Jewish movement.25 Today the same building that housed Temple Judea is home to a Chabad congregation, a Hasidic outreach movement. In between these times, the building was owned by a Pentecostal church.
Inspired by the North County Jewish Community Center, the founders of The Centro Social Israelita (Israelite Social Center) in Tijuana incorporated many of the same design features in 1967 to serve the small, but growing, Jewish community south of the border. Many of these Jews had immigrated from post-World War II Europe, establishing businesses and eventually maintaining residences on both sides of the border. Generally speaking, Jews in Mexico have been reluctant to call attention to themselves fearing discrimination and robberies, so the Centro was constructed in such a way as to be non-descript to passersby on the street. Once visitors entered the building, however, they were greeted by celebratory busts of Moses and Benito Juarez, the ”liberators” of the ancient Hebrews and of nineteenth-century Mexico. Card rooms, a tennis court, and a large swimming pool mimicked the far grander Centro Deportivo Israelita (Israelite Sports Center) in Mexico City, which continues to be a center of Jewish social life. There also was a sanctuary, which has been presided over in turn by rabbis of the Conservative movement and of Chabad.
Expansion into San Diego’s northern and southern suburbs continued in 1957 and 1958 with the founding respectively of Congregation Beth El (House of God) in Clairemont (later moved to La Jolla) and Temple Beth Sholom in Chula Vista. Both are Conservative congregations. Beth Sholom (House of Peace), a small congregation, long has been financially strapped, resulting in difficulty retaining a rabbi. Currently, the spiritual leader is Rabbi Michael Leo Samuel, who has helped to grow the congregation, along the way changing the temple’s name from Beth Sholom to Beth Shalom. Both Hebrew formulations mean “house of peace,” but the former spelling is that of European or Ashkenazic Jewry, while the latter, with an “a,” is the spelling and pronunciation used by Sephardic Jewry and Israelis.
In 1963, Congregation Beth Tefilah (House of Prayer) was begun at 69th and Mohawk Streets. It is not unusual for new congregations to sometimes form as a result of disagreements among members, or between members and the clergy. In this case, a rift at Tifereth Israel Synagogue led to Beth Tefilah’s founding. The congregation’s best known and most beloved rabbi was Samuel Penner, who was revered as a scholar and story-teller.29 One of his books, The Four Dimensions of Paradise, explains the four ways in which one might read the Torah. The first level is literal; the second, metaphorical; the third ethical, through the study of Talmudic commentaries; and the fourth, mystical, as sometimes revealed through gematria, or numerology, in which words are given numeric values and compared with other words or expressions. Before his death, Rabbi Penner became quite friendly with polio vaccine discoverer Jonas Salk, and they enjoyed lengthy discussions about science and religion.30 Another schism in 1964, in which Rabbi Morton Cohn left Congregation Beth Israel, resulted in his establishing Temple Emanu-El (God is With Us) as a Reform congregation. Originally holding services in a church in the Rolando area, the congregation eventually moved to the Del Cerro neighborhood, where, after years in crowded quarters, it tore down the old building and constructed a modern campus in materials suggesting the stones of Jerusalem. Cohn was succeeded by Rabbi Martin S. Lawson, today the congregation’s emeritus rabbi and a force for social justice in San Diego.31 The current senior rabbi is Devorah Marcus who is praised for her beautiful singing voice and for the magnetism she has for children, among other virtues.
In 1966, Carlos Salas Díaz, who later converted to Judaism at the University of Judaism in Los Angeles, began teaching in downtown Tijuana about the Jewish religion that he had studied and had become enamored with. Believing that he is descended from Conversos, who outwardly practiced Catholicism while secretly holding onto their Judaism, his classes attracted others of similar background. After going through formal conversion himself, Salas Díaz began taking groups of Mexicans to conversion ceremonies at the University of Judaism, which today is named American Jewish University. He established a synagogue called Congregacion Hebrea de Baja California (Hebrew Congregation of Baja California) in the La Mesa section of Tijuana. Today an octogenarian, Salas Díaz continues to lead services and teach at the congregation.
In 1973, the Lubavitcher Hasidic movement—more popularly known as Chabad—established a beachhead at San Diego State University, and since that time has founded numerous Chabad Houses throughout San Diego County
and surrounding areas. The regional director of Chabad, Rabbi Yonah Fradkin, today is ensconced at Chabad headquarters in Scripps Ranch on the campus of Chabad Hebrew Academy, where his son Yosef is the principal. The senior Rabbi Fradkin is involved in the process of choosing young rabbis who, with their wives, establish Chabad Houses in different parts of San Diego County, typically by offering classes and Shabbat dinners in their homes, eventually raising enough money to occupy rented facilities, and in a few notable cases going on to raise sufficient money to build full scale synagogues such as those in Poway (led by Rabbi Yisroel Goldstein), La Costa (led by Rabbi Yeruchem Eilfort), and University City (led by Rabbi Moishe Leider). Smaller Chabad Houses are located in the following communities and cities: Carmel Valley, Chula Vista/Tijuana, Coronado, Downtown San Diego, Encinitas, La Jolla Shores, La Jolla-UCSD, Pacific Beach, Rancho Santa Fe, San Carlos, San Marcos, Temecula Valley, and Vista.
In 1974, Rabbi Sheldon Moss began the Reform Congregation Adat Shalom (Gathering of Peace) in Poway, which then had a small Jewish population but which has grown considerably since. Moss—now rabbi at Temple Beth Shalom in Sun City, Arizona—was succeeded in 1988 by Rabbi Deborah Prinz who led the large congregation through 2007.35 Today, Prinz is on the national lecture circuit as the author of On the Chocolate Trail: A Delicious Adventure Connecting Jews, Religions, History, Travel, Rituals and Recipes to the Magic of Cacao (2012).36 The current spiritual leader is Rabbi David Castiglione. Cantor Lori Wilinsky Frank, who joined the congregation in 1982, continues as its beloved cantor.
The move to San Diego’s outlying neighborhoods and suburbs became even more pronounced in 1977 when Beth Jacob Congregation built a new facility on College Avenue quite close to the San Diego State University campus. Years later, long-time rabbi Eliezer Langer was succeeded by Rabbi Avram Bogopulsky, who is the current spiritual leader.38 The College area, where today there is Beth Jacob, a Chabad House, a ritual bath known as a mikvah, and a filament boundary called an “eruv” surrounding the area, is one of the sections of San Diego where Orthodox Jews cluster. Another such area is La Jolla, which once was “verboten” to Jews under the real estate practices of the 1950s. Roger Revelle, former director of the Scripps Institute for Oceanography, told the realtors of the area that the University of California, San Diego, would not be built in La Jolla if the exclusionary and illegal practices were not ended immediately.
1978 saw the founding of another Reform congregation destined to become a large one. Temple Solel (Pathfinder) began in rented quarters, but within nine years was able to move onto a permanent campus at 552 S. El Camino Real, Encinitas. Its first full time rabbi, Bernard Goldsmith, was succeeded in 1985 by Rabbi Lenore Bohm who was the first woman to occupy a full time pulpit in San Diego County.40 In 1991, she in turn was succeeded by Temple Solel’s current spiritual leader, Rabbi David Frank.
Tifereth Israel Synagogue relocated from North Park to San Carlos in 1979 at a location near the foot of Cowles Mountain. At that point Rabbi Levens retired and was succeeded as senior rabbi by Rabbi Aaron Gold. He in turn was succeeded by Rabbi Leonard Rosenthal who retired in 2017. Rabbi Joshua Dorsch, only the fourth rabbi to serve the congregation since 1948, recently was selected to fill the post.
Also in 1979, in the Bonita section of Chula Vista, Sephardic Jews—who trace their ancestry to Spain and North Africa—founded Beth Eliyahu (House of Elijah) Torah Center, this area’s first Sephardic congregation. While Sephardic and Ashkenaz congregations read the same Torah, and the words of their prayers are mostly the same, they have different melodies and some different customs. For example, Sephardic congregations on the day following Passover celebrate a joyous feast day called Maimuna. Some link the holiday to the life and death of the father of Maimonides, a physician and interpreter of Torah whose writings and philosophy still guide much Jewish practice. Others say the name Maimuna is derived from an Arabic word meaning “wealth and prosperity.”42 More recently Sephardic prayer groups, or minyot, have been established at several Orthodox and Hasidic congregations and, in 2015, an independent Sephardic congregation Kehillat Shaar HaShamayim (Congregation Gates of Heaven) was established by Rabbi Yonatan Halevy. It is based in University City.
Congregation Etz Chaim (Tree of Life) in Ramona was established in 1980 after Al Wollner, a cantorial soloist who was a resident of the area, was asked by the Jewish Federation to contact Jews living in the vicinity for organizational purposes. Many had no idea there were other Jews in the mountain community, but they came together and formed a Reform congregation. Rabbi Deborah Prinz was then spiritual leader of Temple Adat Shalom in Poway. Her husband, Mark Hurvitz, who also had rabbinical ordination but worked in private industry, agreed to become Etz Chaim’s spiritual leader. The wife and husband continued to direct the affairs of two congregations until her retirement from the pulpit in 2007. Today, Etz Chaim is led by Rabbi Leslie Bergson who also serves as the Hillel director at the Claremont Colleges.
In the San Carlos section of San Diego, several Orthodox families who wanted to walk to their shul founded Young Israel of San Diego, meeting at first in each other’s homes. Rabbi Daniel Korobkin oversaw the congregation’s initial growth and relocation to rented office space, which soon became too small. In 1997, Rabbi Chaim Hollander, a Judaic teacher at Soille San Diego Hebrew Day School, took over as spiritual leader, a position he continues to occupy. In 2002, the congregation moved to its current rented facility at 7291 Navajo Road.
The spread of Jewish congregations to the east and to the south was eclipsed in the 1980s with a pronounced movement northward, up the Interstate 5 and Interstate 15 corridors. Congregation Beth Am (House of the People) was founded in 1982 in Carmel Valley; Chabad of Poway in 1985; The Elijah Minyan (a Jewish Renewal congregation named for the prophet Elijah) in Carlsbad in 1986; Conservative Congregation Ner Tamid (Eternal Light) in Poway in 1987; and Congregation Adat Yeshurun in La Jolla also in 1987. The latter, an Orthodox congregation led by Rabbi Jeffrey Wohlgelernter, took the same name as the congregation started in the nineteenth century by San Diego’s pioneers when they met in each others’ homes. The Elijah Minyan, headed by Rabbi Wayne Dosick, recently created Shir Hayam (Song of the Sea), a lay-led offshoot in metropolitan San Diego.
Of these synagogues, Beth Am—which was pioneered in Solana Beach by Rabbi Wayne Dosick—has the largest membership. Its architecture recalls Jewish life in the destroyed Jewish community of Roudnice, Czech Republic, from where one of its Torahs came. While spiritual leader at Beth Am, Dosick devised the custom of “twinning” bar and bat mitzvah students with children who perished in the Holocaust. This custom caused a great outpouring of emotion. When it was time to build a new campus in Carmel Valley, synagogue members visited Roudnice and made a mold of an entrance way to the only Jewish building left standing, a building where the dead were prayed over until their burial. The mold led to the construction of a free-standing arch in the synagogue’s courtyard, an architectural detail that is replicated in Beth Am’s House of Prayer.46 Dosick was succeeded by Rabbi Arthur Zuckerman and later by Rabbi David Kornberg, the congregation’s current spiritual leader.
The northward trend continued in the 1990s, with Chabads opening in La Costa and Del Mar. In 1997, Rabbi Baruch Lederman—who has taught at Soille San Diego Hebrew Day School and at Torah High School—began Kehillas Torah (Community of the Torah), an Orthodox congregation in Carmel Mountain Ranch that offers daily minyans at his home and Shabbat services at a nearby Doubletree Hotel.
In the year 2001, San Diego’s oldest and largest temple, Congregation Beth Israel, left its long-time home at 3rd Avenue and Laurel Street and moved to a large campus in the University City area of San Diego. It is the only congregation in San Diego—and perhaps in a wider geographical area as well—that can boast that all three of its homes are still standing. The first Beth Israel is now located in Heritage Park; the second Beth Israel at Third and Laurel is occupied by Ohr Shalom Synagogue; and Beth Israel’s current campus with multiple buildings is located at 9001 Towne Center Drive in La Jolla.
Ohr Shalom (Light of Peace) Synagogue purchased Beth Israel’s 3rd Avenue and Laurel Street property and has since renovated it, thereby preserving the historic structure.49 Ohr Shalom came about through the merger of Congregation Beth Tefilah and Adat Ami (Gathering of the People) Synagogue.50 The latter had been founded by a combination of U.S. and Mexican Jews who hired Rabbi Arnold Kopikis as their spiritual leader. Trained in a seminary in Buenos Aires, Argentina, Kopikis had become known to the Mexican Jewish community as a rabbi while serving in Guadalajara. Today the Conservative congregation, which has a bilingual membership, is led by Rabbi Scott Meltzer.
The new millennium saw more synagogues started in response to Jews moving to different neighborhoods. For example, Temple Etz Rimon (Pomegranate Tree) was part of the Reform movement, started in 2000 under the spiritual leadership of Rabbi Mel Weinman, and has been led since 2009 by Rabbi Karen Sherman. The congregation currently rents quarters from the Pilgrim Church in Carlsbad.51 In 2005, an Orthodox Congregation, Kehillat Ahavat Yisroel (Congregation Love of Israel), was founded in Carmel Valley and changed its name in 2016 to Orot HaCarmel (Lights of the Carmel). Its spiritual leader is Rabbi Baruch Rock, who teaches in the high school of the nearby San Diego Jewish Academy. Orot HaCarmel’s Rabbi Daniel Boortz, meanwhile, heads up an innovative teen program that stresses community service.
In Vista, a Conservative congregation of recent vintage, B’nai Shalom (Children of Peace), recruited “retired” Rabbi Hillel Silverman to be its spiritual leader. Silverman previously had served as an interim rabbi at Congregation Beth El. Today a nonagenarian and still leading services, Silverman had served major congregations in Dallas, Los Angeles and Greenwich, Connecticut,52 and could claim good “yichus” (pedigree) as the son of Rabbi Morris Silverman, who authored a High Holy Day prayer book still in use in some Conservative congregations.53 Hillel Silverman, moreover, had gained some international fame as the Dallas rabbi whose congregants included Jack Ruby, the man who killed Lee Harvey Oswald, the assassin of President Kennedy. In the aftermath of the assassination, Silverman met his congregant regularly in his prison cell.
Over the years, Jewish congregations have been established in San Diego County identifying with movements other than Reform, Conservative or Orthodox. For example, Congregation Dor Hadash (New Generation) in 1983 became San Diego County’s first Reconstructionist congregation making its original home in Pacific Beach and later headquartering in Kearny Mesa before migrating to the Carmel Valley campus of the San Diego Jewish Academy. Today Rabbi Yael Ridberg leads the congregation. Reconstructionist Judaism teaches that the past should have a “vote not a veto” over congregational practices. The movement was the first to ordain female rabbis, the first to offer bat mitzvah ceremonies for girls and women, and was the first to suggest that God might be conceptualized not as a personage but as a verb, manifested in our good actions.
Another branch of Jewish thought—Humanism—made its appearance in 1985 with the establishment of the Alex Levin chapter of the Society for Humanistic Judaism. Initially under the guidance of Toby Dorfman, who called herself a “madrikha” or teacher, Levin taught that one can practice cultural Judaism, including observance of the various holidays, without having to believe in God. The congregation for a while had its headquarters in the Miramar area, but today—renamed as Kahal Am (Community of the People)— meets in members’ homes and various other venues throughout the county under the leadership of Madrikha Beverly Zarnow
Congregation B’nai Tikvah (Children of Hope) in Carlsbad has styled itself since its founding in 1999 as a transdenominational congregation, welcoming “Reform, Conservative, Reconstructionist, Eclectic or unaffiliated.” Rabbi Ben Leinow, who became spiritual leader of the congregation in 2009, officiates at same-sex weddings and intermarriages. He says it is his dream that “we become a group of friends, at ease, learning from each other, and all feeling welcome under the same roof.” He is assisted by Cantor Larry Kornit who has been with the congregation since 2001.
There are other places in San Diego County where Jews can hold formal prayer services. Among them are the Hillel Houses at California State University, San Marcos; San Diego State University; University of California, San Diego; military chapels at Camp Pendleton and Marine Corps Recruit Depot; the two campuses of Seacrest Village Retirement Communities (Encinitas and Poway); and such religious schools as Chabad Hebrew Academy, San Diego Jewish Academy, Soille San Diego Hebrew Day School, Torah High School and Southern California Yeshiva (SCY) High.
Overall San Diego County and the border region have a large variety of Jewish congregations to choose from, spanning the philosophical range from secular humanism to strict Orthodoxy, and varying in size from small groups meeting in living rooms to Congregation Beth Israel, which occupies a large multi-building campus. The congregations are clustered in six geographic areas, from south to north: 1) both sides of the border; 2) downtown San Diego and Kearny Mesa; 3) San Carlos-Del Cerro-College neighborhoods; 4) La Jolla and University City; 5) North County Coastal; and 6) North County Inland stretching up to Southwest Riverside County.
1. Donald H. Harrison, Louis Rose: San Diego’s First Jewish Settler and Entrepreneur (San Diego:
Sunbelt Publishing, 2004).
2. Ibid., 149.
3. San Diego Herald, October 15, 1859, 2.
4. Weekly Gleaner, November 11, 1859, cited in Ronald D. Gerson, “Jewish Religious Life in San
Diego, CA, 1851-1918,” master’s thesis, Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion,
Cincinnati, Ohio, 1974, 16 (filed as RCC 296, Gerson, California Room, San Diego Public Library).
5. Weekly Gleaner, June 20, 1861, cited in Gerson, “Jewish Religious Life in San Diego.”
6. Laurie Bissell, “San Diego Cemeteries: A Brief Guide,” The Journal of San Diego History, 28, no.
4 (Fall 1982), 272.
7. Harrison, Louis Rose: San Diego’s First Jewish Settler and Entrepreneur, 216.
8. San Diego Union, April 25, 1872, 3.
9. Iris Engstrand, San Diego: California’s Cornerstone, Revised Edition (San Diego: Sunbelt
Publications, 2016), 89.
10. Donald H. Harrison, “I-8 Jewish Travel: Old Temple Beth Israel,” San Diego Jewish World, July
9, 2015, http://www.sdjewishworld.com/2015/07/09/i-8-jewish-travel-old-temple-beth-israel/
(accessed March 29, 2017).
11. “United Way Picks Rabbi, Civic Leader Laurie Coskey as CEO,” Times of San Diego, June 2, 2016,
(accessed March 29, 2017).
12. Donald H. Harrison, “Our Orthodox Roots,” Tifereth Israel Synagogue: 100 Years Honoring
Yesterday, Building Tomorrow (San Diego: Tifereth Israel Synagogue, 2005), 1-2.
13. Ibid., 3.
14. Engstrand, San Diego: California’s Cornerstone, 127-146.
15. “Revolutionary San Diego and Tijuana,” San Diego Mexican and Chicano History, http://
aztlan.sdsu.edu/chicanohistory/chapter06/c06s05.html (accessed March 29, 2017); “Tijuana
Jews: An Interview with Isaac Artenstein,” Itineraries of a Hummingbird, http://www.
itinerariesofahummingbird.com/isaac-artenstein.html (accessed March 29, 2017).
16. Stanley Schwartz and Laurel Schwartz, “The Historic Temple at Third and Laurel,” in A Time
to Remember: The First 150 Years; A History of Congregation Beth Israel in San Diego (San Diego:
Congregation Beth Israel, 2012).
17. Donald H. Harrison, “Stages of the Shul: A Chronology of the Births, Relocations—and
Demises—of San Diego Area Synagogues,” San Diego Jewish Press-Heritage, August 28, 1998,
18. Donald H. Harrison, “I-8 Jewish Travel: Shuls on the Move,” San Diego Jewish World, August 20,
19. Today Tifereth Israel’s former building at 30th Street and Howard Street houses the Covenant
Evangelical Presbyterian Church, and Beth Jacob’s former building at 4473 30th Street houses
the St. John Garamed Armenian Church.
20. Jerry Levens, Raphael Levens, and David Levens, “The Life and Times of Rabbi Monroe
Levens,” in Tifereth Israel Synagogue, 20.
21. Donald H. Harrison, “Community Property: The History of our Schools, Centers, Homes for
the Aged and other Jewish Agencies,” San Diego Jewish Press-Heritage, September 25, 1998, 10-11
22.Schwartz and Schwartz, “The Historic Temple at Third and Laurel.”
23. “Yom HaShoah: Three Faiths Join in Remembrance,” San Diego Jewish Press-Heritage, April
24. Harrison, “Community Property.”
25. Harrison, “Stages of the Shul.”
26. Chabad Jewish Center Oceanside/Vista, http://www.jewishoceanside.com/ (accessed March
29, 2017). See also Donald H. Harrison, “Vista Building Shared by Temple, Church Marred by
Graffiti,” San Diego Jewish Press-Heritage, October 29, 1999 http://www.sandiegojewishworld.
March 29, 2017).
27. Donald H. Harrison, “A Mexican Mosaic: Jews of Tijuana Build a Community Around Religion,
Education—And a Social Life,” San Diego Jewish Press-Heritage, October 16, 1998, http://www.
sandiegojewishworld.com/mexico/tijuana/19981016-tijuana_centro.htm#top (accessed March
28. Donald H. Harrison, “From ‘Sholom’ to ‘Shalom’: Temple Changes its Name,” San Diego Jewish
World, July 23, 2012, http://www.sdjewishworld.com/2012/07/23/from-sholom-to-shalomtemple-changes-its-name/
(accessed March 29, 2017).
29. Donald H. Harrison, “I-8 Jewish Travel: The Synagogue That Once Was,” San Diego Jewish
World, January 7, 2016, http://www.sdjewishworld.com/2016/01/07/i-8-jewish-travel-thesynagogue-that-once-was/
(accessed March 29, 2017).
30. Donald H. Harrison, “The Rustification of Rabbi Penner,” There Is a Jewish Story Everywhere:
A is for Alpine, San Diego Jewish Press-Heritage, July 11, 2003, http://www.jewishsightseeing.
(accessed March 29, 2017).
31. “Our History,” Temple Emanu-El, http://www.teesd.org/about-us/our-history (accessed March
32. “Rabbi Devorah Marcus Takes Helm at Temple Emanu-El,” San Diego Jewish World, June 18, 2013,
(accessed March 29, 2017).
33. Donald H. Harrison, “The Jewish Shepherd of Tijuana,” San Diego Jewish Press-Heritage, October
23, 1998; http://www.jewishsightseeing.com/html/mexico/tijuana/19981023-tijuana_cong_
hebrea.htm (accessed March 29, 2017).
34. Chabad Scripps Ranch, http://www.chabaddiego.com/templates/articlecco_cdo/aid/726560/
jewish/Local-Chabad-Centers.htm; Donald H. Harrison, “I-8 Jewish Travel: New Jewish
Pioneers of the West,” San Diego Jewish World, February 4, 2016, http://www.sdjewishworld.
com/2016/02/04/i-8-jewish-travel-new-jewish-pioneers-of-the-west/ (accessed March 29, 2017).
35. “Meet Rabbi Shelley Wayne Moss,” Temple Beth Shalom, http://www.templebethshalomaz.
org/rabbi-s-page.html (accessed March 16, 2017).
36. Donald H. Harrison, “Rabbis’ Travels Produce Chocolate Primer,” San Diego Jewish World,
January 3, 2013, http://www.sdjewishworld.com/2013/01/03/33386/ (accessed March 29,
2017); Sheila Orysiek, “From the Jewish library: ‘On the Chocolate Trail,’ San Diego Jewish
World, May 3, 2015, http://www.sdjewishworld.com/2015/05/03/from-the-jewish-library-onthe-chocolate-trail/
(accessed March 29, 2017).
37. “Our Clergy,” Temple Adat Shalom, https://adatshalom.com/content/our-clergy (accessed
March 16, 2017).
38. “75 Years of Beth Jacob San Diego,” Beth Jacob, http://www.bjsd.org/history (accessed 3/16/ 2017).
39. “Antisemitism,” La Jolla, Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/La_Jolla#Antisemitism (accessed March 29, 2017). Also see Will Carless, “A Specter From Our Past: Longtime Residents Will Always Remember the Stain Left on the Jewel by an Era of Housing Discrimination,” La Jolla Light, April 7, 2005, http://www.lajollalight.com/sdljl-a-specter-from-our-past-longtimeresidents-will-2005apr07-story.html (accessed March 29, 2017).
40. “For More than 100 Years: Serving the San Diego Jewish Community,” Tifereth Israel Synagogue,
http://tiferethisrael.com/about/ourstory/ (accessed March 16, 2017).
41. “Our History,” Temple Solel, (accessed March 15, 2017).
42. “Mimouna: A Post Passover Celebration,” My Jewish Learning, http://www.myjewishlearning.
com/article/maimouna-a-post-passover-celebration/ (accessed March 29, 2017).
43. “About the Rabbi,” http://www.kshsd.org/about-the-rabbi.html (accessed March 15, 2017);
Rabbi Yonatan Halevy, interviewed by Donald H. Harrison, March 16, 2017.
44. “History of Congregation Etz Chaim,” http://www.etzchaimramona.org/ (accessed March 15,
2017). See also Donald H. Harrison, “A Jewish Tree of Life on the Ramona Frontier,” San Diego
Jewish Press Heritage, December 3, 1999, http://www.jewishsightseeing.com/usa/california/
san_diego_county/ramona/sd12-3etz_chaim.htm (accessed March 29, 2017).
45. Young Israel of San Diego, https://www.yisandiego.org/about-yisd.html (accessed March 15,
2017). Also see Donald H. Harrison, “I-8 Jewish Travel: Young Israel of San Diego,” San Diego
Jewish World, October 1, 2015, http://www.sdjewishworld.com/2015/10/01/i-8-jewish-travelyoung-israel-of-san-diego/
(accessed March 29, 2017).
46. “Our Torahs,” Congregation Beth Am, https://www.betham.com/content/our-torahs
(accessed March 16, 2017). See also Donald H. Harrison, “Saga of a Scroll: A Torah’s Odyssey
from Roudnice to San Diego,” San Diego Jewish Press-Heritage, June 25, 1999, http://www.
htm (accessed March 29, 2017).
47. Drew Goodmanson, “Kehillas Torah, Carmel Mountain Ranch,” San Diego Reader, December 15,
(accessed March 29, 2017).
48. “A Brief History,” Beth Israel of San Diego, https://cbisd.org/about/150-years-history/history/
(accessed March 15, 2017).
49. Dave Schwab, “Ohr Shalom Synagogue Gets $4.2 Million Facelift,” San Diego Uptown News,
August 20, 2010, http://sduptownnews.com/ohr-shalom-synagogue-gets-4-2-million-facelift/
(accessed March 29, 2017); Norman Greene, “Ohr Shalom Dedicates its Restored, Historic
Synagogue,” San Diego Jewish World, June 6, 2011, http://www.sdjewishworld.com/2011/06/06/
ohr-shalom-dedicates-its-restored-historic-synagogue/ (accessed March 29, 2017).
50. Donald H. Harrison, “Mazel Tov! ‘Shtetl Wedding’ Celebrates Synagogue Merger,” San Diego
Jewish Press-Heritage, January 29, 1999, http://www.jewishsightseeing.com/usa/california/
san_diego/ohr_shalom_synagogue/19990129-shtetl_wedding.htm (accessed March 29, 2017).
51. Temple Etz Rimon, http://templeetzrimon.org/ (accessed March 15, 2017); Harrison, “A Jewish
Tree of Life on the Ramona Frontier.”
52. B’nai Shalom, http://bnaishalomsd.org/ (accessed March 29, 2017).
53. “Morris Silverman,” Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Morris_Silverman (accessed
March 29, 2017).
54. Matt Potter, “The Kennedy Assassination’s Last Insider: Jack Ruby’s La Jolla Rabbi,” San
Diego Reader, November 20, 2013; http://www.sandiegoreader.com/news/2013/nov/20/coverkennedy-assassination-last-insider/
(accessed March 29, 2017).
55. Congregation B’nai Tikvah, http://www.bnaitikvahsd.com/bt_template_003.shtml (accessed
March 29, 2017).