The telling of any organization’s long-standing history is a daunting task. And for lay members, it’s especially challenging. A small group of dedicated congregants of Temple Beth-El embraced this challenge as they joined together to sort through mounds of information to commemorate our synagogue’s 140-year history. As you can imagine, archives were not established back in 1871 when Temple Beth-El was founded. We were indeed fortunate to work with a focused team of individuals who enthusiastically took a “deep dive” into the documents and photos that have lived quietly for decades in a myriad of storage boxes and file folders.
Our journey in assembling the pieces of this important history included a visit to the Chicago Jewish Archives at the Spertus Museum and a thorough review of the city’s Jewish literature. These resources helped us weave together the story that unfolds in the following pages: a cohesive and compelling record of our trailblazing congregation, its emergence and growth throughout the past 140 years, and the integral role our forebearers have played in the history of Judaism in Chicago.
This project would not have been possible without the shared remembrances, perspectives, and insights of Rabbi Victor Weissberg. Rabbi’s 40-year tenure as Senior Rabbi (starting in 1954) and his current role as Rabbi Emeritus (beginning in 1995) represent more than one-third of the Temple’s 140-year history. His presence in our congregation with his wife, Tamar, defines the meaning of enduring love and commitment to the perpetuation of our synagogue community.
Rabbis Sidney Helbraun and Rabbi Jeffrey Weill contributed their knowledge as well as their excellent literary and editing skills to help convey the culture of our synagogue. Manoah Finston was responsible for the overwhelming task of bringing order to our treasured historical documents to create the first time-ever archive of Temple Beth-El records. Manoah conducted many interviews and created the first draft of the project's manuscript for review by our rabbinic team. Past temple member and professional proofreader Marci Kayne took us to the next level in the manuscript development and editing process.
Our synagogue’s Executive Committee and Board of Directors deserve special thanks for their support of this project. In addition, we express our gratitude to Mrs. Toby Blitz for covering costs related to supporting the manuscript's development. A special thank you to both Iain Lopata for his guidance and expertise and to Mari Hattenbach for her dedicated support in posting the manuscript onto the MediaWiki site.
It has been our great privilege to complete this historic journey on behalf of our congregation. As a result of this experience, and as members of Temple Beth-El, we take great pride in knowing that we are all a part of something much larger and more significant than we ever knew. We hope you will feel the same.
—Alan Blitz, Ellen Carmell, and Janice Hadesman