Though Humboldt County’s Jewish community has always been relatively small, it is devoted, pluralistic, and enthusiastic. Written records show that organized Jewish activities began in Humboldt County in the late 1940s, leading to the formation of Congregation Beth El in 1954.
Working with Rabbi Joseph Glaser of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations (UAHC, which later became the Union for Reform Judaism), the newly formed congregation made plans for the construction of the first Jewish Temple on the coast of Northern California. Together with local supporters, Congregation Beth El raised funds to purchase the property at the corner of Hodgson and T Streets in Eureka, and finished construction on April 22, 1967.
Through the UAHC, Temple Beth El was introduced to Rabbi Leo Trepp of Napa, who would travel regularly from his home to serve as the visiting rabbi and spiritual leader of the Congregation until 1990, when he was given the title of Rabbi Emeritus. Rabbi Trepp, a Holocaust survivor and a scholar who authored The Complete Book of Jewish Observance, among others, conducted the area’s first Jewish wedding and bar mitzvah. Throughout the next 23 years, Temple Beth El continued its long tradition of having lay leaders conduct Shabbat services, along with visiting rabbis. Temple Beth El hired its first part-time resident rabbi, Lester Scharnberg, in 1990.
In 2004, Temple Beth El’s Jubilee year, Rabbi Emeritus Leo Trepp returned to Eureka to officiate at the installation ceremony of Rabbi Naomi Steinberg, who continues to serve the Congregation today. Temple Beth El offers a children’s education program, adult education, Jewish cultural and life-cycle events, as well as weekly and holiday services.
Temple Beth El honors the diverse Jewish traditions of our members. Services, which include Reform, Reconstructionist, Conservative, and Jewish Renewal styles, are currently led by Rabbi Steinberg, lay leaders, and visiting rabbis. We are also proud to welcome visiting Jewish educators, artists, and musicians who contribute to the cultural vitality of our community.
Since 1997, we have enjoyed the teachings and music of Rabbis Aliza Berk, Michael Berk, Jackie Brodsky, Aryeh Hirschfield, Margaret Holub, Daniel Kohn, Elisheva Sachs, David Schneyer, Daniel Siegel, David Seidenberg, Hanan Sills, Naomi Steinberg, Zari Weiss, Gershon Winkler, and David Zaslow. We have also been pleased to welcome scribe Aviel Barkley, educator and storyteller Joel Grishaver, Cantor/musician Richard Kaplan, Jewish textile artist Nancy Katz, and Cantor Linda Hirschhorn.
TBE also welcomes guest soloists to its High Holy Day services, including Bel-Ami Margoles, Berel Steinberg, and accompanist Jerryl Lynn Rubin. We also offer educational programs to broaden the understanding of the complex socio-political issues in the Middle East.