Temple Beth El (Detroit)

For other synagogues called Beth El, see Temple Beth-El (disambiguation).
Temple Beth-El

Current Temple Beth El, opened in 1973
Basic information
Location 7400 Telegraph Road
Bloomfield Township, Michigan
Affiliation Reform Judaism
Status Active
Website http://www.tbeonline.org/
Architectural description
Architect(s) Minoru Yamasaki
Architectural style Modern
Completed 1973
1922-1973 temple at 8801 Woodward Avenue
1902-1922 temple at 3424 Woodward Avenue; currently the Bonstelle Theatre.

Temple Beth El, also known as Temple Beth-El, is a Reform synagogue currently located in Bloomfield Township, Michigan, USA. 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 streets. At the time, there were only 60 Jews in Detroit (out of a population of over 21,000) and no synagogues.[1] 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 "Beth El Society"[1] (a Michigan Historical Marker now commemorates this site[2]). The congregation engaged the services of Rabbi Samuel Marcus of New York.[1]

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.[1] In 1851, the congregation legally incorporated, and adopted its first constitution the following year. In 1854, Rabbi Marcus died of cholera, and the congregation chose Rabbi Leibman Adler, the father of famed Chicago School architect, Danker Adler, as his successor.[3]

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.[1] The remaining congregants adopted another 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.[1] 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.[1]

In 1861, the congregation moved into a new temple on Rivard Street.[1] In 1867, it purchased a spacious building on Washington Boulevard and Clifford Street,[1] where services were held until 1903. A number of rabbis served at Beth El, none staying for long[3] until the tenth rabbi, Louis Grossman, arrived in 1884, immediately after his graduation from Hebrew Union College.[1] 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.[1]

Under Franklin's leadership, Temple Beth El grew rapidly. In 1902, the congregation authorized a new building on Woodward Avenue near Eliot Street. The building was designed by the young (and then relatively unknown) Beth El congregant Albert Kahn.[3] Beth El used this building until 1922 when it was sold for use as a theater and remodeled by noted architect C. Howard Crane. It currently houses Wayne State University's Bonstelle Theatre. In 1922, the congregation of over 800 families[1] moved to another Albert Kahn structure at Woodward and Gladstone.[3] 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, the congregation elected Richard C. Hertz as leader who served until 1982.[1]

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.[4]

Present Day

Temple Beth El currently has a membership of almost 1,100 families and is led by Senior Rabbi Mark Miller, Assistant Rabbi Megan Brudney and Rabbi Emeritus Daniel Syme. A growing staff includes Cantor Rachel Gottlieb Kalmowitz. The Temple remains at the forefront of current trends in Jewish worship and program, innovative lifelong education, and a commitment to interfaith relations and active work in the broader community.[4]

The Temple's Greater Connection to Architecture

Temple Beth El has been the congregation for two well-known architects, Albert Kahn, whose Packard Plant, Ford Highland Park Plant, Ford Rouge Complex, the Fisher Building, Willow Run Plant, and the Clements Library, Hatcher Graduate Library, Hill Auditorium, and Burton Tower on the University of Michigan Campus are his most well-known. Danker Adler was ten when his father first became the rabbi for the congregation, and after his move to Chicago, and subsequent apprenticeship and military service, became half of the firm Adler and Sullivan, who is credited with being one of the most successful and prosperous architecture firms, giving a young Frank Lloyd Wright an apprenticeship, after which he was eventually fired for moonlighting. Adler designed the Old Chicago Tribune Building, The Jeweler's Building, the Auditorium Building, the Wainwright Building, Charnley House, Guaranty Building, and the Transportation Building for the 1893 Columbian Exposition. The other connection is with Minoru Yamasaki, whose Birmingham, Michigan firm designed the ill-fated Pruitt-Igoe complex in St. Louis, Missouri, and the World Trade Center in New York. According to the congregation, it is said that while the current temple was being designed, the World Trade Center towers were being designed at the same time as the temple, and that the models for the buildings were physically adjacent to each other while they were being refined and constructed. Yamasaki has been credited for giving Gunnar Birkerts, a Latvian architect his start, which has resulted in numerous award winning projects, many of which are around Ann Arbor, Michigan and Corning, New York.

See also


  1. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 Katz, Irving I.; Katz, Jacob R. Marcus (1955). The Beth El Story, with a History of the Jews in Michigan before 1850. Wayne State University Press.
  2. Michigan Historical Marker: First Jewish Religious Services Informational Designation.
  3. 1 2 3 4 Olitzky, Kerry M.; Raphael, Marc Lee (1996). The American Synagogue: A Historical Dictionary and Sourcebook. Greenwood Press. pp. 175–177. ISBN 978-0-313-28856-2. Retrieved 2013-12-31.
  4. 1 2 "History". Temple Beth El. Retrieved 2013-12-31.
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