Temple History

Congregation Emanu-El of Westchester traces its history back to 1952 and the Westchester School for Judaism. Originally conceived as a school dedicated to the teaching of Judaism, the “School” also conducted High Holiday services as early as 1953 in the private homes of its members. The young school received a name change in 1954: “The Congregation for Reform Judaism in Westchester” and became an incorporated congregation. With the incorporation, the congregation began formal worship services for its 34 families, each paying $100 annual dues.

In line with the Dedication ceremony a Torah arrived, a gift from the Metropolitan geriatrics Center. It’s auspicious arrival came via a shopping bag and its resting place a flat table in Winslow Hall served as the 1st Ark. This original and smallest Torah still resides in the Ark at the center of today’s bima. The 2′ Torah, which is referred to as the Zachor, (“Remember”) Torah is a “Holocaust” Torah, as it was desicrated by Hitler. It was collected by the Westminister Synagogue and is on loan to us under a 99 year agreement. The Torah emanates from Czechoslovakia.

The 3rd Torah, made an adventurous trek from Nazi controlled Europe to America via an underberth voyage on the R.M.S. Mauretania. Our 4th and final Torah has an origin and history currently unknown.

As the number of Scrolls had now become overwhelming for the “flat table” Ark in Winslow Hall, a hurried call was made to a cabinet maker who turned an old kitchen cabinet into a stained and varnished Ark. The Ark was transported for each service via jeep to the Ridgeview Congregational Church in White Plains where services were held.

The congregation grew yearly and confirmed its first class in 1957. Six students in all were confirmed. 1957 also saw the change in clergy leadership as Rabbi Fineberg was elected and upon the joining of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations we once again changed our title to Congregation Emanu-El of Westchester.

By 1959 the religious school and congregational growth required classes to be held at the YMCA, the American Legion Hall and the White Plains Conservatory of Music. The time had come for a temple of our own. A gift of 11 acres of land from Mrs. Leo Wallerstein made the building a possibility and construction began. At Hanukah services on December 21, 1962 the new facility was completed and dedicated.

1967 was marked by the arrival and election of Rabbi Daniel S. Wolk. Our first Cantor, Tom Lewy, joined in 1967, followed by Cantor Earl Rogers, whose original musical compositions added beauty to our services. We continue to honor Cantor Earl Rogers for his long and dedicated service with a special Sabbath tribute each year. Under the leadership of Rabbi Wolk the congregation swelled and by 1969 the need for increased space for both religious teaching and prayer was evident. Two years later on December 10, 1971 the dedication of the new building and the sanctuary in which you now sit took place. Under the spiritual and educational stewardship of Rabbi Wolk, Cantor Meredith Stone, who joined the clergy in 1985 and our religious educator, Marcie Aiuvalasit, (1987), Congregation Emanu-El of Westchester grew to over 400 families.

After 42 years of dedicated service, Rabbi Wolk retired in the spring of 2010. In July, the Temple was thrilled to welcome Rabbi Howard J. Goldsmith as its new rabbi. Rabbi Goldsmith, who served as Assistant Rabbi of Temple Emanu-El in New York City, brings with him a new vision that will build on the foundations laid by Rabbi Wolk. The next stage of Congregation Emanu-El of Westchester’s physical growth has begun with the construction of the new 4,500 square foot Susan Schweitzer Family Learning Center.