The Early Years
The Temple of Truth (Congregation Beth Emeth) had its beginning in May 1905. A self-constituted committee, whose aims are best expressed in their own words, sent a circular to a number of the Jewish residents of Wilmington, reading:
A meeting of those who are desirous of organizing a modern Jewish congregation in this city will be held Sunday, May 27, 1905, at 10:30 A. M., at the Young Men’s Hebrew Association rooms, at N. E. Corner Fourth and Shipley Streets.
You are cordially invited."
In anwer to this card, thirty-three men met and proceeded to form a congregation known as the Temple of Truth. They subscribed to a fund for the foundation of a new building. A membership committee was appointed and the active work of building the Congregation began.
Within a short time, the congregation was honored by the gift of a Torah through the courtesy of Mr. D. L. Levy, and soon after Rabbi J. Korn was selected to guide the religious activities of the congregation. The first place in which services were held was at 504 Market Street. During this time, preparations were being made for the purchase of the lot at 904 Washington Street.
Read about Sonia Sloan, her family, and Beth Emeth
Read S. Bernard Ableman's account from Sussex to Beth Emeth
904 Washington Street
An active committee, along with our second spiritual leader, Rabbi Rubenstein, was at work. May 1908 witnessed the laying of the cornerstone of the building at 904 Washington Street.
In 1909 Rabbi George Benedict succeeded Rabbi Rubenstein in the pulpit of the congregation. The following year Rabbi Moses J. Abels came to Wilmington. Under Rabbi Abel's guidance the activities of the congregation expanded and began to assume important proportions. During his period of leadership, Wilmington Jewry witnessed its first Confirmation Service. This ceremony which had long been part of the Reform or Liberal Jewish practice had been frowned upon by orthodox Jews as an imitation of Christianity. But once adopted, it proved valuable and commendable. So much so that even conservative congregations introduced the rite into their synagogues.
In 1912, Rabbi Emanuel Schreiber succeeded Rabbi Abels and was particularly active in communal life. He was instrumental in furthering the interests and ideals of the community in which he lived. His sermons on social problems of the day gained him an enviable reputation and he was fearless in proclaiming the wrongs and inequities of the system under which we lived, whether in factory, office or home. In January of 1913 Temple Beth Emeth became a member of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations.
World War I
Rabbi Samuel Rabinowitz came to Wilmington in 1915. Drawn into the turbulent maelstrom of the first world war, it began to rest upon American Jewry to aid distressed Jews in Europe, and Congregation Beth Emeth responded magnificently. Rabbi Rabinowitz warmly, vigorously and effectively led the congregation in those trying times.
In 1921, Rabbi Moses Baroway followed Rabbi Rabinowitz as guide of the congregation. For the first time in our history, under Rabbi Baroway's leadership, a regular Jewish school was organized and conducted. Sabbath services, too, were introduced and were ably furthered. Rabbi Baroway, a young earnest leader, left the congregation in 1922.
In the same year, a critical event occurred in the congregation. In the month of July, a number of the members came to the conclusion that the tendencies observable in the conduct of affairs savored of more radical reforms than they were prepared to adopt. Finding that it was impossible to arrive at an amicable and livable compromise, this group resigned in a body and later formed the conservative Congregation Beth Shalom.
This event, of course, gave a definite sanction and a clear direction to the liberal tendencies of the parent congregation. From that time on the change in outward ritual was rapid. It was agreed that hats need not be worn during services. The second days of the festivals, following the tradition of Liberal Judaism, were returned to their old Palestinian status. On the other hand, in 1926, Confirmation was set for the day on which Shavuot occurs.
In 1925 Rabbi Levinger came to us and remained for three years. During his stay, stress was laid upon the cultural development of the membership. Great strides were made in promoting the interests of the school and in extending the influence of the congregation. During the first few months of his incumbency the Congregation adopted the Union Prayer Book as its official liturgy; and later in the same year reaffirmed affiliation with the Union of American Hebrew Congregations. During this period a new constitution and by-laws were adopted which definitely ranged the Congregation with the more progressive elements of American Jewry.
In April, 1924, after an intensive appeal, the Temple Center at 911 Washington Street was purchased and remodeled, and a new home was available for the cultural, social and communal interests of the Congregation.
Rabbi Louis Mischkind was chosen rabbi in the fall of 1927. He developed the life of the congregation in accordance with well-considered and well defined principles of Jewish life. A community Open Forum was established, sponsored by a newly formed Men's Club. Classes for adults in Jewish History, Bible, Hebrew and Modern Philosophy were organized. The activities of the school were extended to include weekday classes in Hebrew. Rabbi Mischkind died in 1929 after being injured in a fall from a horse.
In 1930 Rabbi Henry Tavel came to us as our first leader from Hebrew Union College. Rabbi Tavel served the Congregation until 1946, including four years as a Chaplain in the United States Army. Chaplain Tavel returned to the Service in 1946 and served with distinction. When Rabbi Tavel enlisted in 1942, Rabbi Alvin Fine came to us for a short time and endeared himself to the congregation. He will always be remembered for his moving sermons. Rabbi Fine also entered the Army as a Chaplain and served overseas.
Rabbi Herbert E. Drooz followed Rabbi Fine in August, 1943 and stayed until the return of Rabbi Tavel in February, 1946. A year later, after Rabbi Tavel reentered the service, Rabbi Drooz once more returned to us.
During Rabbi Drooz' spiritual leadership there were many changes. A Hebrew School under the direction of Rabbi Simon Krinsky was developed to an attendance of over one hundred children at weekday classes. More than three hundred children attended Sunday School. At this point, there were now more than three hundred and fifty families in our congregation.
Sabbath Morning Services were reinstituted in 1951 as a time when parents may worship with their children.
The New Building
When Rabbi Drooz first came to us in 1943 our congregation numbered one hundred and twenty-three families. We had just begun to have difficulty in seating our members during the High Holy Days, even with a second service being held in the Center. Talk of enlarging the Temple, acquiring the building next door, and finally, of an entirely new building, became commonplace. Our High Holy Day Services were held at the New Century Club at 1014 Delaware Avenue for the first time in 1944. A building committee was formed; the architectural firm of Bloch and Hess of New York began plans for the new temple; and in 1951, more than $120,000 was pledged on Yom Kippur Eve for the new building.
The Executive Council of the Building Committee presented plans to the congregation at a special meeting on March 1, 1953 and received approval. The construction company of Ernest DiSabatino and Sons was hired and the Groundbreaking Ceremony took place on October 25, 1953. A gift from Mrs. Milton Kutz to provide for the beauty of the chapel and the crown wall was accepted by a resolution passed by the Board of Directors on January 19, 1954: "The Chapel of the new Temple Beth Emeth shall be dedicated to the memory of Milton Kutz and henceforth shall be known and appropriately designated as the Milton Kutz Memorial Chapel of Temple Beth Emeth."
The new building was used for the first time on Rosh Hashanah Eve in 1954. The Torahs were carried from the old Temple to the new Temple and presented to the Congregation officers. Rabbi Drooz and Rabbi Simon R. Krinsky opened the doors of the Holy Ark and placed the Torahs inside. Mrs. Kutz lighted the Eternal Lamp and the Sisterhood president kindled the Yom Tov lights. The choir sang Ma Tovu, and services began.
In May 1955, under the leadership of Rabbi Herbert E. Drooz, Congregation Beth Emeth celebrated the fiftieth anniversary of the founding of the congregation and the dedication of its new Temple. In a message to the congregation included in the dedication book, President Harry Jacobs wrote, "The vision of our founders is realized in the construction and dedication our new spiritual home." He called on congregants to show their gratitude "to the those many wonderful individuals who made our fifty years of existence and our new Temple a reality, by supporting and participating in the high ideals and spiritual aims of our Temple. "
Rabbi Peter Grumbacher joined the Congregation as Assistant Rabbi in 1972 upon his ordination from Hebrew Union College Jewish Institute of Religion. In 1976 he was elevated to Associate Rabbi and in 1982, upon the retirement of Rabbi Drooz, was installed as Senior Rabbi of the congregation. After 37 years of service to Beth Emeth, he retired in 2009, and was celebrated (along with Rabbi Sarah Messinger) by the congregation and the Wilmington Jewish community. He was succeeded by Rabbi Yair Robinson in 2009, who tries to honor the history of the Congregation while moving us forward.
Cantor Michael M. Mandel was appointed as the first cantor for the Congregation in July 1999. Following his departure from Beth Emeth, the Congregation elected Cantor Mark Stanton as Cantor in July 2003.
Rabbi Sarah Messinger joined Beth Emeth as assistant Rabbi in July 1990. She left the Congregation in June 1993 and was replaced by Rabbi Larry Malinger. She returned after Rabbi Malinger's departure, in August 2002 and served the Congregation as Program Director until 2009.
In 2006, work began on our most recent and extensive renovation of the Temple building, including a new education wing, the enclosing of the courtyard where both a Holocaust Memorial Garden and Garden of the Righteous Gentiles, and renovations to the chapel, social hall, administrative offices, Judaica shop, library, kitchen, board room, and classrooms. A new memorial alcove was created, the building exterior was enhanced and the main entrance relocated. Throughout the building, the beauty of Beth Emeth's past was integrated with modern furnishings. The new building was dedicated on October 19th, 2008 with much celebration, and points us toward a new century of growth and community.