The Early Years
Congregation Beth Sholom was unofficially founded in 1906, when the great earthquake forced many Russian Jewish émigrés to observe Rosh Hashanah that year in a Richmond District refugee camp. 17 men joined together to officially found Congregation Beth Sholom in October 1921. Services were held in a Baptist church on Fourth Avenue that the founders purchased and remodeled as a shul. Thirteen years later, in 1934, the cornerstone of Beth Sholom’s first synagogue was laid at the corner of 14th Avenue and Clement Street. That same year, Saul E. White (z”l) was installed as the first rabbi.
Rabbi White served as Congregation Beth Sholom’s rabbi for 48 years, until his retirement in 1983. He took stands on many major sociopolitical issues of his day and, under his leadership, CBS prospered and became a leading progressive voice in the Jewish community, advocating for women’s rights, the disadvantaged, and other social justice issues. Wearing his tallit and carrying a Torah, Rabbi White famously marched down Market Street as one of the Bay Area’s first clergymen to protest the Vietnam War. But Rabbi White was also a scholar so respected in the Jewish community that he earned the nickname “Dean of Bay Area rabbis.” One of his legacies is the Brandeis School of San Francisco, which Rabbi White founded in 1963, serving as its guiding spirit.
A place of Learning and Growth
In the 1960s, Beth Sholom was the Bay Area pioneer in presenting scholarly lectures by educators, historians, and international personalities on Jewish topics and heritage. CBS also brought outstanding musical artists and prominent authors to the pulpit of the synagogue. Inspired by the success of these activities, an adult studies program evolved, featuring seminars by rabbis, authors, and local scholars. These activities were supplemented with classes in Hebrew, Yiddish, and current events.
Rabbi Aubrey Glazer has been Beth Sholom’s spiritual leader since July of 2014. Rabbi Glazer envisions tradition as evolving and nimble, designed to sustain and improve the intellectual and spiritual potential within each of us, and to inspire us to act as agents of positive change in the world. He celebrates “the inspiration that comes from learning, listening, questioning, questing, meditating, and caring,” but insists that a rousing spiritual space cannot be created in isolation. The dynamism of our community happens for Rabbi Glazer by connecting CBS members to one another as well as to both the unbroken chain of our authentic, Jewish spiritual tradition and the urgent realities of contemporary life.