BETH ISRAEL-WEST TEMPLE was organized by 25 families, led by Abe Silverstein, in April 1954, to provide a religious center for Reform Jews living on Cleveland's west side. The congregation's first service, Rosh Hashonah, was held 27 Sept. 1954 at the First Universalist Church in N. OLMSTED. For the next 3 years, services were held either at the Universalist Church or the N. Olmsted Community Club House. Following the merger with the WEST SIDE JEWISH CENTER, 25 Oct. 1957, Beth Israel occupied the Center's newly completed building at 14308 Triskett Rd. and dedicated the structure 11 May 1958. The congregation still occupies the site in 1995. For its first 7 years, Beth Israel was served by a succession of 6 student rabbis from Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati. One of these, Daniel Litt, became its first full-time rabbi, serving from 1961-65. From 1965-94, 5 rabbis have occupied Beth Israel's pulpit. The religious school opened in Jan. 1955 in rooms rented at Giles-Sweet school in FAIRVIEW PARK. Rabbi Sally Priesand, a graduate of Beth Israel's religious school, became, in 1972, the first woman ordained to the rabbinate in the U.S. The school, staffed by volunteers, covers preschool through grade 12 and enrolls over 100 students. As an outgrowth of the temple Social Action Committee, several members founded the CLEVELAND COUNCIL ON SOVIET ANTI-SEMITISM. Lou Rosenblum, one of the founders, became a leader in the national movement to assist Soviet Jewry.
Beth Israel draws its members from Cleveland's west side and the western suburbs. It expanded its facilities in 1965 with the construction of a new 8-room, 2-story wing. In 1965 and 1985, the CLEVELAND FOUNDATION awarded the congregation library grants to enlarge its collection. The library and its volunteer staff has provided services for the congregation as well as for schools, colleges, and churches in western Cuyahoga County. In 1995 the library contained over 6,000 volumes and audiovisual materials. From 1964-78, Beth Israel provided office space for the Cleveland Council on Soviet Anti-Semitism.
Rabbi Alan B. Lettofsky served as rabbi from 1999-2012 when he became Rabbi Emeritus. He was succeeded by Rabbi Enid C. Lader, who had served the congregation for many years as a member-volunteer in a variety of roles including cantorial soloist, choir director, and congregational educator, before being ordained in 2010. Rabbi Lader was installed as Rabbi in 2012.
A Ohio Historical Marker, commemorating the congregation’s role in the movement to aid Soviet Jewry, was placed on the Triskett Road site in 2020, with support from Western Reserve Historical Society and the Jewish Federation of Cleveland. In 2023, Beth Israel drew its members from a broad geographic area of Cleveland’s West Side and its western suburbs: from Oberlin and Avon in Lorain County to Medina County on the south.
Updated by Sylvia Abrams
Last updated: 3/15/2023