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History of Temple Isaiah

In the mid 1950’s, Congregation B’nai Jacob in Lexington (once Orthodox, at that time Conservative) merged with the Arlington Jewish Center, a social and cultural organization, to form the Arlington-Lexington-Bedford Jewish Community Center. In 1959, a decision was made to engage a full-time rabbi, and the board voted to offer the position to Rabbi Bernard Bloom, a graduate of HUC-JIR. Some members of the board preferred a Conservative rabbi, and insisted that the decision be brought to the entire membership, which voted to engage a Conservative rabbi, and rescind the offer to Rabbi Bloom. A group of 40 households who preferred a liberal congregation, and wanted to honor the offer to Rabbi Bloom, formed a new congregation, which they named Temple Isaiah, a reflection of their core commitment to social justice. The group that chose to engage a Conservative rabbi became Temple Emunah, and the two congregations enjoy an unusually close relationship to this day. By the end of the year, the Temple had added 41 new families (view Founding Members). Scroll down for videos of founding members Crasella Kaplan & Irving Belansky telling the stories of how Temple Isaiah was founded.

Temple Isaiah and its school met in two local churches until 1963, when it completed its building on Lincoln Street. That same year saw the arrival of Rabbi Haskell Bernat, under whose leadership Temple Isaiah became known for its innovative and creative worship and programming. When Rabbi Bernat took a position as a UAHC regional director in 1971, Rabbi Cary Yales became the rabbi of Temple Isaiah. This pamphlet documenting Temple Isaiah's history was created in celebration of the congregation's Chai (18th) Anniversary in 1978.

Building upon the foundation established during Rabbi Bernat’s tenure, Rabbi Yales led Temple Isaiah with distinction for twenty-eight years, until his untimely death in 1999. During that time, Temple Isaiah grew substantially. Under Rabbi Yales’ leadership, Temple Isaiah introduced and/or piloted numerous new programs and innovative approaches to education, programming, and worship, including family education, the Meah adult learning program, and full-time Renaissance and Youth Educator positions. Numerous musicians who went on to distinction in the Reform movement worked at Temple Isaiah during these years, including Jeff Klepper, Benjie Ellen Schiller, Julie Silver, and Peri Smilow, who served as our cantorial soloist for six years.

In 2000, Rabbi Howard Jaffe became senior rabbi. His tenure has seen a reorganization of the board structure, the creation of our Yom Shabbat and award winning Achim programs, a new vision statement for Temple Isaiah, the development of alternative worship services for youth and adults, and co-founding of the Greater Boston Synagogue Organizing Project. Responding to his call for Temple Isaiah to appoint a full-time cantor, the congregation engaged Robbie Solomon in 2005 (previously, Cantor Leon Sher had been with us on a part-time basis for one year). Following Cantor Solomon, Cantor Lisa Doob joined Isaiah in 2008.

Rabbi Jaffe retired in June 2022, and we welcomed Rabbi Darryl Crystal as our interim senior rabbi in July 2022.

For a detailed history of Temple Isaiah's founding through 1978, click here.

Crasella Kaplan & Irving Belansky: Founding of Temple Isaiah (recorded April 4, 2018)

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Wistia video thumbnail
Mon, November 28 2022 4 Kislev 5783