Temple Beth El, the oldest synagogue in the Harbor Area and South Bay, will soon undergo renovations.

Civic and community leaders, including Rep. Janice Hahn and City Controller Ron Galperin, joined together with temple members Sunday to mark the groundbreaking of a project that will include improving safety with a new front entrance ramp and sprinklers as well as upgrades to the bathroom, social hall and technology for the 93-year-old synagogue in San Pedro.

“We like to think we are creating a building as warm as the people in it,” said George Mayer, who heads the building campaign committee.

Currently, there are about 260 member families, including about 600 people, of Temple Beth El, who come from across the South Bay, though about half the congregation resides in San Pedro and the Palos Verdes Peninsula.

Temple Beth El is a community that embraces Jewish life by providing strong Jewish leadership, diverse educational, musical and cultural programming, and engaging worship services in a vibrant social community, said Rabbi Charles Briskin. The congregation is led by Briskin, Cantor Ilan Davidson and Director of Education and Programs Debi Rowe.

Temple Beth El remains active in the community through the Toberman Neighborhood Center, the Boys and Girls Clubs of L.A. Harbor, Harbor Interfaith Services, South Coast Interfaith Council, local food and clothing centers and other causes.

“The mission of the congregation is to participate in helping to repair the world,” Briskin said. “It’s a building that has worn very well. We’re bringing it up to date for the 21st Century for not only the congregation but for the larger community.”

The roots of Temple Beth El were planted in 1922 when the first organized Jewish religious services were held in the San Pedro home of Daniel Leven and his wife. At the time, there were 25 known Jewish families living in San Pedro.

Before 1922, a group of Jewish men had established a social club that met in a Beacon Street photographer’s studio. In 1923, their wives established the San Pedro Jewish Sisterhood, which was dedicated to supporting a Jewish community and giving aid to the poor and needy. This group of women donated the synagogue’s first Torah scroll in 1928.

As services and activities grew, the “founding” men and women raised the money to build a Jewish Center, and the San Pedro Jewish Sisterhood held the grant deed for the center. In 1935, the San Pedro Jewish Community Center was dedicated at the corner of 19th and Cabrillo streets (currently the home of the Italian American Club). By 1938, about 75 Jewish families lived in San Pedro and the name “Congregation Beth El” was adopted.

In 1942, several lots on Seventh Street were purchased for future development, but that did not happen until 1955, when the San Pedro Jewish Sisterhood sold the building at 19th and Cabrillo streets and donated the proceeds to the construction of the current building on Seventh Street. 

In 1956, the Torah Scrolls were delivered to the new home, consisting of classrooms, offices, a kitchen and the combination social hall-sanctuary. In 1959, the charter was changed one last time to become Temple Beth El, a Reform congregation affiliated with the Union of American Hebrew Congregations (now known as the Union for Reform Judaism). The Seventh Street facility grew, and on November 10, 1985, the congregation consecrated the present-day home.

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