A Conservative Congregation;
Temple Beth EL was the first attempt to organize a synagogue in Palm Beach County. It assembled at a house on 5th Street in 1919. In those days, the Jewish community was small, and the area encompassed by the initial network of Jews went as far as Fort Pierce to the north, south to Boca Raton, and west to the Glades. As the population in the Palm Beach area grew and as the diverse individuality of the Jewish spirit expressed itself, there became a need for diversity, as well as independent and modified visions of what the synagogue should be.
In the beginning, an organization called the Jewish Community Center existed to serve the Palm Beach County Jewish population. When the Jewish community showed growth in the number of Jewish families in the area in 1922, a movement developed for a separate religious organization with the Center for worship. This matter was presented to the general membership for action and approval at a separate meeting held at the old Keystone Hotel. The main issue was whether the new organization would be Reform or Conservative. Lengthy discussions and votes on the matter manifested a majority in favor of the Reform group. The vote brought a split in the forces of the Center group.
The Conservative group formed Temple Beth EL, and the Reformed forces eventually organized into Temple Beth Israel, which is now known as Temple Israel. As an organized religious group, Temple Beth EL held a regular Sabbath evening services in a small rented room at the West Palm Beach Women’s Club , conducted by lay leader, Jacob Fein. Though Conservative, the worshippers were bareheaded – only the leader wore a yarmulke. This system prevailed until 1927.
In 1926, when membership was on the increase, a move was started for a religious sanctuary. After months of deliberation and planning, a 100 x 100 parcel of land was purchased on 7th Street, just west of Dixie Highway. A Sanctuary seating some 300 persons was erected and dedication (this building later became the County Health Department).
In the meantime, the Congregation had been undergoing procedures for the receipt of a charter. The charter of the Articles of Incorporation of Congregation Beth El is dating March 1st, 1926. The prime signer was Jacob Fein.
Financial problems arose with the “boom bust” of the late 1920s and the loss of members to Temple Israel. The remaining group was unable to meet its financial obligations on mortgage payments, which brought about foreclosure and loss of the Sanctuary. When Jacob Fein was left holding the bag after the other signers of the mortgage did not follow through on their obligation, he left Temple Beth El to later become a President of Temple Israel.
Following a period of reorganization, the Temple was once again consolidated. Land was purchased on Fern Street, and a new sanctuary was built. Rabbi Emanuel Greenstein, as spiritual leader, seems to have played an Important role in this renewal. Eventually, a religious school building and a social hall were built. This complex is now the University of Palm Beach. As the congregation grew, High Holiday services were held in the American Legion Hall on Okeechobee Road.
In the late 1950s, membership had grown to 150 families. Land for a new facility was purchased on Flagler Drive between 27th and 28th Streets. A controversy arose regarding the tenure of the then spiritual leader, Rabbi Max M. Landman which resulted in the move of several members of Temple Israel and also the formation of Temple Emanu El in Palm Beach.
Coincidentally, with the coming of Rabbi Hyman Fishman as the new spiritual leader, momentum was started for a new Temple building program. Groundbreaking services were held on May 19th, 1963, and work began on the construction of the building. The construction of Senter Hall was followed by the completion of the adjacent school building. Senter Hall served as both a sanctuary and social hall until the completion of the Fread Sanctuary.
Fread Sanctuary and the modern house of worship were built and dedicated over the weekend of February 13-15th, 1970. Additional classrooms were built in 1970.