ln October 12, 1944, the Monroe Jewish Council was formed by 75 Jews, coming together to create an institution to strengthen their house of Jewish heritage. They met in the Odd Fellows Hall on Lake Street, prior to purchasing a white frame residence on Stage Road.
After many long debates and much deliberation, non religious members compromised with the Liberal, Conservative and Orthodox segments and affiliated with the Union of American Hebrew Congregations, UAHC, the national organization of the Reform movement, which has since changed its name to the Union for Reform Judaism, URJ. In February of 1953 the Council’s name was officially changed to the Monroe Temple of Liberal Judaism, Temple Beth-El.
The Monroe Temple of Liberal Judaism thrived, an entity perpetuating our Jewish heritage and faith. Lou Brenner laid the cornerstone for our present building on March 23, 1956, and the congregation has grown from strength to strength in the intervening years. Over the years, Monroe had gone from a summer resort community to a rapidly growing year-round population. Our religious school had increased from a constant of 125 students in the 50s and 60s to a significantly larger number by the 80s, causing overcrowding in our classrooms.
Our congregation realized that we were in need of a larger sanctuary to assure seating, especially during holiday observances, and the physical plant was in need of major repair and renovation. In 1987 we dedicated a major building renovation, which provided us with expanded and redesigned facilities for worship, study and meeting. Over the years, eighteen rabbis have served our pulpit, some briefly, and others who remained longer, providing unique and lasting influences on our spiritual development.
Rabbi Simeon Maslin (1957-1961) came to us in the full bloom of youth, with little prior experience, a fine singing voice, a self-possession rarely found in a 26 year old, and a wit and wisdom he used to weld our congregation into a more unified and cohesive Rabbis institution for learning and worship.
From 1973-1984 Rabbi Dr. Kurt Metzger served our community. The strong demeanor of this older, experienced Rabbi was just what was needed to assist us in re-establishing priorities and in moving forward cooperatively. Rabbi Metzger’s stentorian voice and impish good humor commanded our attention and respect, and enabled him to be an effective spiritual leader.
Bringing with him an array of talents rarely found in one spiritual mentor, Rabbi Garry A. Loeb came to our pulpit in 1985 and served our congregation through June of 2016. Rabbi Loeb introduced rituals and liturgy which were a remarkable blend of the very traditional, and the new and innovative. His natural ability to reach out to the young, and make the elderly feel they have relevance was a true gift that brought light to our spiritual lives and made our Judaism meaningful and worthy of further study. With wisdom and dry humor, Rabbi Loeb made our life-cycle events intensely valuable Jewish experiences.
We grew and doubled our membership, with a well established pre-school and Torah School, an active Youth Group, Sisterhood and Men’s Club, and a Continuing Education program which draws significant adult participation. We expanded our involvement with the greater community in meaningful and mentschlekeit ways. Rabbi Loeb became active in the Clergy Association, which afforded him well deserved respect in Orange County. With the tremendous growth, and the unrelenting demands made on our Rabbi, the Board of Trustees realized the need for additional clergy.
In July of 2000, we welcomed Cantor Martin D. Levson to our congregation. While here, Cantor Levson brought new insight into our traditional music and engendered renewed excitement for musical participation in the service. In 2004, Cantor Levson and his family moved to Hamden, Connecticut and Cantor Leon Sher served as our Cantor revitalizing our Adult and Youth choirs. Cantor Sher introduced us to new music, some of which he composed himself. After three years, Cantor Sher moved on to a congregation in Franklin Lakes, NJ and we welcomed Cantor Elena Schwartz to our congregation. Cantor Schwartz acted in the dual role of Cantor and Torah School Director until she and her family moved out of the area in 2013. Cantor Elizabeth Goldman then served our congregation as a part time Cantor until July 2016.
In the summer of 2016, after 30 years of service as our rabbi, our beloved Rabbi Garry Loeb stepped down from the bimi. He and Sorel both retired and began the next chapter of their lives traveling the country. As Reform Judaism evolved and grew, Rabbi Loeb kept our congregation at the forefront of the Reform movement’s re-embracement of tradition; he encouraged us to develop a thoughtful balance between Reform philosophy and traditional custom and ritual. Rabbi Loeb’s love of Judaism and deep commitment to teaching and growing in the Reform movement has instilled within us a zest for social justice and search for meaning within our Congregation and community.
In July 2019, Rabbi Roger Lerner joined our congregation as our spiritual leader. With a heartwarming presence and a musical talent rarely found in a rabbi, Rabbi Lerner hopes the congregation will join him on this journey and explore the path of community and self-discovery, the celebration of our joys and sorrows and especially our growing together in the days and years to come.
Our saga as we continue in our seventh decade odyssey continues, and without a doubt, an elder congregant will be called upon to write a few words for the 75th anniversary, which will be read via electronic medium on the screens of a thousand congregant families.
cain yehe ratzon
May it be G-d’s will.
Acknowledgement: This history was written by Dr. Joseph Birnbaum and edited by Dr. Glorya Covel Smith.