Temple Beth El
For other synagogues called Beth El, see Temple Beth-El.

Temple Beth El, also known as Temple Beth-El, is a Reform synagogue currently located in Bloomfield Township, Michigan. Beth El was founded in 1850 in the city of Detroit, and is the oldest Jewish congregation in Michigan.

In 1982, its two former buildings in Detroit, at 3424 and 8801 Woodward Avenue, were listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Early years

In 1850, Sarah and Isaac Cozens arrived in Detroit and moved into a house near the corner of Congress and St. Antoine street. At the time, there were only 60 Jews in Detroit (out of a population of over 21,000) and no synagogues. Sarah urged her co-religionists to establish a congregation, and on September 22, 1850, twelve Jewish families came together at the Cozens's home to found the "Bet El Society" (a Michigan Historical Marker now commemorates this site). The congregation engaged the services of Rabbi Samuel Marcus of New York.

Rabbi Marcus conducted services in the Orthodox mode, first in the Cozens's home and later in a room above a store on Jefferson Avenue. In 1851, the congregation was legally incorporated, and the next year, the first Constitution was adopted. In 1854, Rabbi Marcus died of cholera, and Rabbi Leibman Adler was hired.

In 1856, the congregation adopted a new set of by-laws including a number of innovations from the then-emerging Reform Judaism. Although the congregation was slowly growing, due in part to the influx of Jews to Detroit, some members of the congregation were unhappy with the reforms. In 1860, the new by-laws were debated and re-affirmed. However, the introduction of music into the worship service in 1861 caused a split, with 17 of the more Orthodox members of the congregation leaving to form Congregation Shaarey Zedek. The remaining congregants adopted a new set of by-laws in 1862, introducing greater reforms.

Temple Beth El was one of the thirty-four congregations involved in the founding of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations (now the Union for Reform Judaism) in 1873, and immediately became officially affiliated with the organization. In 1889, Beth El hosted the Eleventh Council of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations, at which the Central Conference of American Rabbis was founded.

In 1861, the congregation moved into a new temple on Rivard Street. In 1867, they purchased a spacious building on Washington Boulevard and Clifford Street, where services were held until 1903. A number of rabbis served at Beth El, none staying for long until the tenth rabbi, Louis Grossman, arrived in 1884, immediately after his graduation from Hebrew Union College. Grossman was the first American-born rabbi of Beth El, and he organized a number of reforms, including the adoption of the Union Prayer Book.

Leo M. Franklin Years

Rabbi Grossman resigned in 1898, and the congregation hired Leo M. Franklin, a young Rabbi from Omaha and another Hebrew Union graduate. The choice proved fortuitous, as Franklin served the congregation for over forty years. Franklin organized the United Jewish Charities (an umbrella organization to coordinate philanthropic activities), began the Woman's Auxiliary Association (later the Sisterhood of Temple Beth El), and assumed editorship of the Jewish American, Detroit's first English-Jewish weekly. He also instituted an interdenominational community Thanksgiving service and established a student congregation (the forerunner of the Hillel Society) at the University of Michigan.

Under Franklin's leadership, Temple Beth El grew rapidly. In 1902, the congregation authorized a new building on Woodward near Eliot. The building was designed by the young (and then relatively unknown) Beth El congregant Albert Kahn. Beth El used this building until 1922; it is currently Wayne State University's Bonstelle Theatre. In 1922, with a congregation of over 800 families, a new temple was built at Woodward and Gladstone; Albert Kahn again designed the building. The building currently houses the Lighthouse Cathedral.

Later years

Rabbi Franklin retired in 1941 and was replaced by B. Benedict Glazer. After Glazer's untimely death in 1952, Richard C. Hertz was elected to lead the congregation.

Once again, in 1973, the membership outgrew its facilities. With the movement of many of the congregants to the northern suburbs, Beth El built a new temple in Bloomfield Township at Telegraph and 14 Mile Roads. The facility was designed by Minoru Yamasaki.

Temple Beth El currently has a membership of almost 1500 families and is led by Rabbi Daniel B. Syme.


Building Activity

  • cooper25
    cooper25 updated a digital reference
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  • Irvin Vasquez
    Irvin Vasquez updated a digital reference
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  • Georgi Sokolov
    Georgi Sokolov updated
    about 5 years ago via OpenBuildings.com
  • updated and updated 2 digital references
    about 5 years ago via OpenBuildings.com