History

The Temple, originally founded as the Hebrew Benevolent Congregation in 1867, was Atlanta’s first official Jewish institution. It grew out of the Hebrew Benevolent Society, which had been organized in 1860 to obtain a burial ground and provide relief for the Jewish poor.

Jews have lived in Atlanta since the very beginnings of the city, and while they were an integral part of the city’s commercial life, they represented a small minority of the population. In 1850, twenty-six Jews lived in Atlanta, representing just one percent of the population. Their numbers would double by the outbreak of the Civil War, prompting the fledgling community to create a loosely organized Hebrew Benevolent Society in 1860.

It was not until two years after hostilities ceased, amidst the rebuilding of a decimated Atlanta, that the community was able to found The Temple.

The 1800s


It began on the first day of January, 1867, when the Reverend Isaac Leeser of Philadelphia, presided over Atlanta’s first Jewish wedding, between Emilie Baer to Abraham Rosenfeld. Rabbi Leeser encouraged those in attendance to create a formal congregation. The Hebrew Benevolent Congregation received a charter four months later. In 1875, they built the first permanent worship hall in downtown Atlanta.

Over the first twenty years of it’s existence, The Temple shifted back and forth between Reform Judaism and a more traditional observance. A number of rabbis were hired, and fired, depending on which faction was stronger at any given moment. The arrival in 1895 of Rabbi David Marx marked the end to this period and the beginning of many decades of stability.

Rabbi David Marx’s 51 Years

Rabbi Marx was only 23-years-old when he came to The Temple. Over the course of his 51-year tenure, which ended just after World War II, he pushed The Temple further into classical Reform Judaism, solidify our place as a leading member of the Union for Reform Judaism (then called the Union of American Hebrew Congregations). His efforts helped to quell earlier controversy between traditionalists and reformers, but it also helped strike a delicate balance between Atlanta’s Jewish and gentile communities.

Rabbi Jacob Rothschild

His successor, Rabbi Jacob Rothschild, arrived in 1946. While he rolled back some of the reforms of Rabbi Marx’s tenure, he continued his predecessors outreach to Atlanta’s Christian community. He was, however, much more willing to speak out in support of social justice, even when it angered some in the larger community.

The Temple Bombing

This climate of moderation was shattered on October 12, 1958. A group of white supremacists, angered by The Temple’s ongoing and vocal support of civil rights, placed fifty sticks of dynamite by the north entrance to The Temple.

Into the Present

On December 31, 1973, Rabbi Rothschild died suddenly of a heart attack. His successor, Rabbi Alvin Sugarman, continued the tradition of stability at the position of senior rabbi, serving for more than three decades until 2004.

His tenure came at a time of unrivaled growth and prosperity for Atlanta’s Jewish community. From a population of roughly 28,000 in 1980, the Jewish community of metro Atlanta grew to over 120,000 by 2006. Jewish business leaders and Temple members have largely been behind this massive growth, helping to build Atlanta into a corporate center of the South.

The Temple has also grown in those years. In 1985, The Temple Zaban Couples Center began operating on our campus, providing a place to stay for homeless couples. Housed in the Selig Building, the center operates nightly from October through May, a tangible extension of The Temple’s ongoing commitment to social justice.

In 2004, at the end of Rabbi Sugarman’s tenure, we also completed a major renovation and expansion of The Temple campus. The main sanctuary was restored, while the rest of our facilities were renovated and expanded.

Along with the completion of our campus expansion, we also launched the Weinberg Early Learning Center, Atlanta’s premiere Jewish center-based school. The WELC has helped us carry forward our mission of learning from the earliest ages to the eldest.

Under the leadership of our current senior rabbi, Peter S. Berg, The Temple is excited to continue both its incredible growth as well as its long history of social justice and Jewish leadership.

 

1589 Peachtree Street NE | Atlanta, GA 30309 | t 404-873-1731 | A Reform Synagogue | Affiliated with The Union for Reform Judaism