Our History

Congregation Emanu El and the greater San Bernardino Jewish community traces its 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 125 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. The congregation has been affiliated with the Reform movement since 1947. Currently the congregation uses Mishkan T’Filah, the prayerbook of the reform movement published by the Central Conference of American Rabbis. 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 congregation provides activities for people of all ages including an active youth group and Sisterhood.

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.

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. In 2013 the congregation dedicated its new building at 1495 Ford Street.