In 1908 there were few Jewish families in Flatbush Brooklyn. In that year, Hannah Hirsch was concerned with providing her children with a Jewish education. She invited some of her Jewish neighbors to her home for a group discussion. That meeting resulted in the establishment and organization of the first reform religious school in Flatbush. For the next three years, the school held classes in Dilliard's French Bakery and Dining Room on Cortelyou Road at East 16th Street.
On May 17th 1911, Mrs. Hirsch's group of thirty-five Jewish families met for the purpose of organizing a liberal reform congregation. They met at the Savoy hall at 854 Flatbush Avenue. It was voted on that annual dues would be set at $12.00 and that any money received as donations go toward a building fund. On October 17, 1911 the name of the congregation was established as Temple Beth Emeth of Flatbush (the House of Truth).
In November 1911, a call was made to Rabbi Samuel J. Levinson of Yonkers, NY. Rabbi Levinson accepted the invitation to return to his native Brooklyn and lead the congregation. He was formally installed as Rabbi of Temple Beth Emeth in February 1912 at an annual salary of $500.
Rabbi Levinson soon embarked on a campaign to develop a permanent structure for the Temple because services were still being held at the Savoy Hall. The first location considered for a building site was the southeast corner of Westminster Road and Ditmas Avenue. The land was to be purchased for the sum of $9,000, however, the deal was not finalized because there was a restriction against a "church" being erected on that site. The next location selected was the southeast corner of Marlborough Road and Church Avenue. The congregation paid $6,300 for the property on September 9, 1912. The cornerstone was laid on July 30, 1913 and on Rosh Hashanah Eve, 1914, the new Temple was dedicated.
The membership grew rapidly in just a few years. More space was needed for the classrooms and meeting rooms and in 1922 an addition to the sanctuary was added. By the mid-1930s, Temple Beth Emeth boasted one of the largest men's clubs in the country with over 800 members. The sisterhood numbered over 400 members and the religious school was one of the best around. In 1936, Rabbi Levinson celebrated his 25th year at Temple Beth Emeth.
Also, in 1936, the sanctuary was renovated and changed to an art-deco design and air conditioning was installed. A bronze Ark was designed and presented as a gift to the Temple. The renovations added greater beauty and warmth to the sanctuary and it came to be known as the little "Jewel Box."
In the late 1960s a massive exodus of Reform Jews from Brooklyn began which decimated the membership of four congregations. By the 1990s, the merging of these congregations resulted in today's Temple Beth Emeth v'Ohr Progressive Shaari Zedek keeping the flame of reform Judaism alive in Flatbush.
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