Temple Israel of New Rochelle was founded in 1908 by a small group of relatively prosperous Jewish families, mostly of German origin, who had moved from New York City to the suburb of New Rochelle. Anshe Sholom, then the only other synagogue in New Rochelle, used an Eastern European style of Orthodox worship. The founders of Temple Israel wanted a congregation that interpreted Jewish tradition, liturgy, and rituals in a way that they perceived to be more appropriate to modern times.
From the rented rooms of an old Post Office, Temple Israel employed an orthodox Chazan as its reader and established a Religious School and Ladies Aid Society. In search of their own spiritual home, the newly formed congregation soon purchased and renovated the Holy Trinity Lutheran Church, where they erected an Ark for the Torah Scroll. In 1912, Richard M. Stern became the congregation’s first full-time resident rabbi, who oversaw increased Temple membership and Religious School enrollment, as well as the transformation of the Ladies Aid Society into the Sisterhood.
In 1923, Temple Israel joined the Union of American Hebrew Congregations (UAHC), and Rabbi Harry K. Jacobs assumed the leadership role. To support a growing congregation, ground was broken for a building on Webster Avenue in 1928. With Alvin S. Luchs as rabbi, activities were expanded to include a Men’s Club, Garden Club, Men’s Glee Club, Braille transcriptions by the Sisterhood, and the first appearance of Temple Topics (our bulletin).
Jacob K. Shankman assumed the pulpit in 1937. Under his guidance, an era of growth, enthusiasm and interest was ushered in. Bible literature, customs and ceremonies, and Jewish history became required subjects at the Religious School, and Hebrew was introduced. Temple Israel became the pre-eminent Reform congregation in Southern Westchester. However, commensurate with the impact of World War II on everyone’s lives, Rabbi Shankman took a leave of absence in 1943 to serve as a Chaplain in the U.S. Navy. Sadly, seven Temple members lost their lives while serving. In the aftermath of the war, the renewed spirit of the 1950s brought growth to the Temple, as young families flocked to Westchester County. An assistant rabbi, Charles Annes, and a permanent cantor, Sumner A. Crockett (who would serve until 1980), were hired.