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 Dan Ain has been Beth Sholom’s spiritual leader since June of 2018. Rabbi Ain develops meaningful ways to worship in the 21st century – creating experiences that speak to people living in today’s world using the language, lessons and music of the past. Rabbi Ain finds holiness through honest conversation and gathers those who are open to being reached. He creates spaces where people can say what they really think and allow others to do the same.