The History of Salem’s Jewish Congregation
Temple Beth Sholom (TBS) is a Reconstructionist Jewish congregation in Oregon’s capital city of Salem. TBS was established by a dedicated core of early residents in the Pacific Northwest. Salem’s Jewish community began organizing in the 1930’s, holding its first meetings in private homes.
Gatherings soon moved to an old building at the corner of Chemeketa and Commercial streets in the heart of old Downtown Salem. Services were held three flights up, around an old wood stove, with about 20 to 30 people participating. The Salem Jewish Congregation incorporated in 1937.
Salem’s first building committee was established on October 18, 1934. Its activities were interrupted by World War II but started up again in 1947 with a building fund drive that raised $18,000 in pledges from 36 donors. The first temple was located just north of downtown Salem at 1765 Broadway Street.
The first meeting in the congregation’s new synagogue, Temple Beth Sholom, was held on January 20, 1948. Initial membership was 28 families. The first Sunday School meeting took place on October 8, 1948. From those initial 28 families, TBS membership has now grown to 174 membership units (families, seniors, couples, and singles).
Naomi and Lou Horn with the first TBS Sunday School class in 1948.
The Growth of TBS
Temple Beth Sholom remains Salem’s only synagogue. For 40 years, religious support was provided by visiting rabbis, cantors and professional lay people. Salem retained its first full time rabbi in 1987.
At a time when the future of Judaism is seen as being challenged, this Pacific Northwest Jewish community continues to expand. Adult members are studying and stretching, youth are engaged and enthusiastic. After five decades at its Broadway location, Temple Beth Sholom was faced with a beautiful dilemma – it had grown too large for its home.
Beginning in 2000, the TBS board sought solutions to the cramped quarters on Broadway. The board explored appropriate and practical solutions to the space and programmatic needs of the community. The TBS community initially decided to renovate and expand the current facilities. The capital campaign raised more than $1.6 million, mostly from the congregation community – an astounding accomplishment given the congregation had never raised more than $30,000 in any similar effort.
As preparations were made for the renovation, another option appeared. Our Savior’s Lutheran church in South Salem had also outgrown its facilities and was moving. TBS decided to purchase the Cunningham property and forego the renovation of the Broadway Temple.
On September 17, 2006, the members of TBS, with the overwhelming support and participation of the Salem community, marched the Torahs 5.2 miles to their new home.
Connected to the Past, Moving to the Future
While we were somewhat melancholy about leaving a space so full of wonderful memories, traditions and history, we were equally excited about our contribution to the dreams of our founders in establishing a vibrant, growing and self-sustaining Jewish community in Salem, Oregon.
Our New Home
We have now been in our new home for more than a decade and we continue to explore the myriad opportunities that this space provides for us as a community.
We are alive with activity, excitement, and community involvement. On any given Sunday you might find children attending religious school, parents schmoozing over coffee, committees meeting and planning, guest speakers offering great adult learning opportunities, or yoga enthusiasts gearing up for class.
Every day we look for more ways to make the most of this facility and its potential to serve our members now and into the future. You can help us in this endeavor with your donation! We invite you to make your donation online, and help us in maintaining our new home and building a vibrant and secure future for generations to come.