A Brief History

In 1939, the Jewish Communal Welfare Group was organized under the presidency of Jack Golos, and later became the Geneva Jewish Council. During the war years, a religious school was founded and classes met in a private home. Immediately after the war, organized Jewish religious services began. These included a monthly service at Hobart and William Smith Colleges and, at the Women’s Club, a community Seder and High Holiday services.

It was in 1947 that the congregation was truly founded. Twenty-four families organized Congregation Temple Beth-El, which began meeting in a room over Gordon’s Clothing Store. Temple Beth-El of Rochester donated a Torah scroll to the infant congregation. In 1951 the present facility at 755 South Main Street was purchased. The Sanctuary was dedicated the following year, at which time a second Torah scroll was received on a permanent loan from the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations. In more recent years a third Torah scroll rescued from the Holocaust was also acquired on permanent loan from a European organization. At this time the library was also established.

Through the 1950s Temple Beth-El continued establishing itself as an active synagogue, starting its bulletin Temple Topics, purchasing its cemetery plot at Glenwood Cemetery, and founding its Gift Shop. The first rabbi, Harold Wininger, arrived in the mid 1950s. In the latter part of the decade the first religious school class was confirmed, and the Temple affiliated itself with the United Synagogue. In 1981 Temple Beth-El formally joined the Reform Movement by affiliating with the Union of American Hebrew Congregations, now called the Union for Reform Judaism. Since the mid 1970s, most of our congregation’s religious leaders have been graduates of the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion.