The year was 1954. The Korean war had ended, and a new generation of returning veterans and their families were on the move, to the suburbs. Board by board, house by house, Skokie was rising from the flatlands of Chicago’s North Shore. Many of the young families were Jewish. They were leaving the south side, or the west side, or the near north side. They were looking for good schools and space to grow. And, they were looking for a Jewish community that was modern and attuned to their spiritual and social needs. Many of them found it in a new synagogue community, one that in time would become Temple Judea Mizpah.
Skokie was growing rapidly in 1954, and the new synagogue had an equally fast start. It all began on January 25, when three couples met in the living room of Alvin and Ro Dunn to talk about starting a new Jewish congregation. Sy and Florence Mandell and Leonard and Liese Rothman were also among the first couples.
Rabbi Herman E. Schaalman, then the director of the Chicago Federation of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations, lent his avid support to launching the new congregation, as did Rabbi Louis Binstock of Chicago’s Temple Sholom. Rabbi Schaalman officiated at the first Sabbath service on April 2, 1954. That evening, the new synagogue elected its first slate of officers. Sy Mandell was elected president, and Leonard Rothman was one of the directors.
By the end of April, the fast-growing synagogue had 60 families, and it needed two important building blocks for its future: a name and a rabbi. Within a month, it had both. At a meeting on May 28, the congregation adopted the name: Temple Judea of Niles Township. The choice kept alive the name of a west side Chicago institution that had closed.
The congregation gained new richness when it called Karl Weiner to be its first rabbi at that May 28 meeting. Born and ordained in Germany, further educated in Mandate Palestine and the United States, Rabbi Weiner had been, with Rabbi Schaalman, a driving force behind the 1951 founding of Olin-Sang-Ruby Union Institute, a pioneering facility for Reform youth in Oconomowoc, Wisconsin.
Rabbi Weiner and his wife Eva would quickly put their mark on the congregation and the community. The new Temple Judea soon added the elements that would contribute to its growth over the years. Florence Mandell became the first principal of the Religious School. And the Women’s Auxiliary voted in June 1954 to change its name to the Sisterhood of Temple Judea. The new congregation also helped to build a sense of community.
With a name and a rabbi, Temple Judea now needed a building. Mack Miles and his wife got the ball rolling by donating a parcel of land at the intersection of Niles Center Road and Conrad Street. From the original two building lots, the temple bought adjoining land, including a Baptist church. Al Wengerhoff was hired to design the new Temple Judea, and just weeks after the synagogue’s first High Holyday services, ground was broken on October 17, 1954. The new structure would cost $60,000 and equipping it cost another $15,000. The second High Holyday services in 1955 were held in the partially completed sanctuary. Build a sanctuary, and the members will come. And they did. It started off with a few families and within a few months, there were 800 families and over 1000 children in the religious school.
Through the 1960’s and the 1970’s, Temple Judea continued to grow and prosper. As the demands on Rabbi Weiner increased, newly ordained Marc Berkson was hired as assistant rabbi. In 1977, Temple Judea merged with Temple Mizpah in Chicago to become Temple Judea Mizpah.
Beginning in 1958, Temple Judea built its community hall and classrooms addition. Rabbi Weiner and the temple’s congregants were at the fore front of the civil rights movement, both in the south and at home. Congregant Evie Shavitz marched with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. at Selma, Alabama in March 1965. Closer to home, Rabbi Weiner helped to assure that Skokie was an integrated community. Rabbi Weiner was also the driving force in forming the Niles Township Clergy Forum and inaugurating the popular interfaith service on Thanksgiving eve.
In 1980, Temple Judea Mizpah lost its founding rabbi with the death of Karl Weiner. After a search, the synagogue made Rabbi Marc Berkson its spiritual leader. Changes were occurring in the Skokie community at that time. Because of its large Jewish population, Skokie was the target of an American Nazi effort to march on its streets in 1978. At the same time, Skokie was losing a portion of its Jewish population to new suburbs farther out in the North Shore. Other changes were occurring, though, that were in tune with the Reform movement’s evolution toward traditional religious observance. TJM retained its commitment to social justice, campaigning for the release of Jews held captive in the Soviet Union.
In 1999 Rabbi Audrey Korotkin became our new spiritual leader, introducing a variety of creative services such as the Blessing of the Animals and Domestic Abuse Shabbat.
Rabbi Amy L. Memis-Foler became our rabbi in 2007 and in 2015 we welcomed our Cantorial Soloist, Shawna Rosen.
L’dor v’dor, from generation to generation. Through a half century of its history, Temple Judea Mizpah has remained true to its founding principles, to community, to Jewish education, to social activism, to Israel, and to liberal Judaism. What we were, we are today. We have changed, but our adherence to our founding principles has never wavered.
Our history is a journey through time, to today, and to tomorrow.