Congregation Emanu El and the greater San Bernardino Jewish community trace our history back to the early 1850s when the first Jewish settlers came to Southern California. The first Jewish community established in Southern California was in San Bernardino, and services began to be held in the 1850s. While services were held and education for children was provided, it was not until 1891 that the Congregation was formally chartered, as then the State of California required such chartering.
Today the congregation consists of over 250 households in San Bernardino, Redlands, Highland, Yucaipa, Fontana, Rialto, Colton, Grand Terrace, the mountain areas, and from the surrounding communities of Riverside, Moreno Valley and the Victorville-Apple Valley desert communities. Some members are fifth-generation affiliates of the synagogue; some are newcomers. The congregation is made up of people of all ages, native Jews, Jews-By-Choice, interfaith couples, traditionalists, modernists, etc. The congregation serves as the "CENTER OF JEWISH LIFE OF SAN BERNARDINO COUNTY." It is the only full-service synagogue in San Bernardino County (the largest county by area in the lower-48 of the United States), with a full facility and full time professional staff.
The worship services of the congregation are a blend of the traditional and contemporary. Though the congregation has been affiliated with the Reform movement since 1947, its services are more traditional and prayer books bear a more traditional orientation (Likrat Shabbat, Siddur Hadash, Mahzor Hadash) are used. The congregation has pioneered the reintroduction of many traditions with a contemporary expression. The synagogue is committed to the full equality of women and men in synagogue life and to patrilineal descent. As a Reform congregation, options are provided in such areas as wearing a kipah or talit.
The Jewish education program of Congregation Emanu El has won national awards for its excellence. It is the only Reform synagogue school to have twice won the Emanuel Gamoran Award of the National Association of Temple Educators (Reform) for its outstanding curriculum. The School for Jewish Living underwent a major restructuring in 2008, when it launched the Jewish Living Project, a novel interactive and experiential new curriculum, based on the success of the Reform Movement’s camping educational structure.
The congregation provides activities for people of all ages including an active youth group, junior youth group, singles and senior citizens group. Sisterhood is a vital part of the congregation.
Our cemetery, the Home of Eternity, was founded in the 1850s concurrent with the establishment of the Jewish community. The land for the cemetery was given to the Jewish community by the early Mormon pioneers. Today the Home of Eternity Cemetery and Mausoleum is the oldest Jewish cemetery in continuous use in Southern California, and has been designated as an historical site by the State of California.
Rabbi Douglas Kohn has served the synagogue since 2001. In its long history, Congregation Emanu El has had only five senior rabbis: Rabbi Solomon Margolis served briefly in the 1920's, Rabbi Jacob Alkow served from 1932-1937, Rabbi Norman F. Feldheym served from 1937 to 1971 and served as Rabbi Emeritus from 1971 until his death in 1985; Rabbi Hillel Cohn served from 1963 until his retirement in 2001 when he became Rabbi Emeritus. Rabbi Kohn has helped develop creative and informal education and worship in the Congregation, and has served on several national commissions and boards, including the National Commission on Social Action and the National Board of ARZA. He is the author/editor of Life, Faith and Cancer: Jewish Journeys Through Diagnosis, Treatment and Recovery (URJ Press, 2008)
From 1953 to 2009, the congregation occupied a full city block in the northern section of San Bernardino. The main building, built in 1953, housed a sanctuary, Cohn Hall, administrative offices, the Eugene H. Goodman Memorial Library, the William Russler Memorial Archives, and the Sisterhood Gift Shop. An annex was added in 1959 and the Rabbi Norman F. Feldheym Religious Education Center was built in 1966. In 2008 the Congregation voted to sell its campus and relocate to the east, to which the synagogue’s membership had steadily been migrating. In 2009, property was acquired at the corner of Ford Street and Patricia Lane in Redlands for a new Temple facility, and a building was leased on Ford Street adjacent to the new property to serve as an interim site. Presently, the Congregation has its offices, sanctuary, school and meeting rooms in the leased property (1473 Ford Street) while the design and construction of the permanent site is underway.