The 1950s was a time of enormous growth for Sisterhood, for the temple and for the community at large.
The former San Bernardino Army Air Field, which had been used for aircraft repair and maintenance during World War II, was renamed Norton Air Force Base in 1950 and subsequently became one of three Air Force jet overhaul centers. Meanwhile, the population of San Bernardino had reached 63,000 – an increase of 20,000 people in just a decade.
For Congregation Emanu El, it was an era of expansion as well. By 1950, with the temple outgrowing its original building at 847 E Street and the surrounding area becoming increasingly commercial, the temple’s board of directors identified a new, larger site north of downtown San Bernardino. The groundbreaking ceremony took place in 1952 and the new temple was dedicated in August 1953. By this point, there were about 400 Jewish families in the San Bernardino area.
Congregation Emanu El’s new location at 3512 North E Street was dedicated in 1953.
As the temple grew, Sisterhood grew too: by 1953, just 25 years after its inception, it had 240 members. By 1956, its membership had grown to 350. Meanwhile, the temple had expanded to the entire city block.
Under Sylvia Becker, who was president from 1949 to 1951, Sisterhood published its first yearly program book, an annual directory that raised funds for the temple and quickly established a reputation as “the Jewish phone book.” She also instituted the interfaith luncheon, an annual event to which Sisterhood invited women from local churches.
To support the growing youth activities at the temple, Mrs. Becker began the Sisterhood tradition of providing a copy of the Tanakh to each Bar Mitzvah or Confirmand.
The temple’s first annual Purim Ball was held under Rose Isenberg, who was president from 1951 to 1953. The proceeds from this and numerous fundraising bazaars were used to furnish and equip the new kitchen and community hall (including kitchen flooring, dishes, silverware, chairs and tables, Formica counters, a dishwasher, steam tables, garbage disposals, coffee urns and chop tables).
Sisterhood presidents Dora Goldstein and Esther Levin in the kitchen at Congregation Emanu El.
In 1955, Sisterhood hired the temple’s first part-time youth director to oversee its growing religious school. Later in the decade, Sisterhood established a campership fund to send temple youth to Camp Saratoga (later renamed Camp Swig), a Reform Jewish camp in the Santa Cruz mountains in Northern California.
Sisterhood provided annual youth scholarships to Camp Saratoga (later renamed Camp Swig).
Thelma Press, Sisterhood president from 1956 to 1957, remembers the second half of the decade bringing an influx of new residents to the community.
“We hosted luncheons for new temple members, and we’d invite the wives to come to Sisterhood,” she said. “For each one, I’d ask a member to be a ‘big sister,’ and we would follow up and check on them.”
New members of Sisterhood relax by the pool at an initiation event in 1957.
The role of Sisterhood was very important during this time, Mrs. Press recalled. “The women were the connection between the families and the temple. On Friday nights, members of Sisterhood would stand at the entrance and greet people coming to services.
“The past Sisterhood presidents from Sally Unickel (1942-1945) on down were still very, very active,” Mrs. Press added. “We focused on making sure we could reach the women in the community and on improving the facilities – especially the kitchen. And everybody cooked – we never had anything catered. Dora Goldstein (president from 1945-1947) was a great chef, and Esther Levin (president from 1954-1955) was too.” Mrs. Press noted that Helen Berk served as an informal liaison between Sisterhood and Hadassah, which had established a local chapter in 1948. “Most of us belonged to both groups,” she added.
Sisterhood’s first cookbook was created in 1959.
1959 saw the publication of the first Sisterhood cookbook, a compilation of favorite Jewish recipes contributed by members of Sisterhood and the community.