Temple Beth Shalom is the oldest and only functioning Jewish religious community in Chula Vista. A progressive synagogue, at one time many of its members were Holocaust survivors. Today, one survivor remains as a worshiper. The synagogue, which opened in 1958, has had many members who made important contributions to Chula Vista and the South Bay. The building is historic, some artifacts are well-preserved and their Rabbi writes a blog about timely issues.
The building at 208 Madrona Street didn’t start out as a Jewish temple. In 1925 it was St. John’s Episcopal Church. Then in 1958, St. John’s moved to First and Kearney Streets, where it still stands today. The building was purchased for $40,000 by several deed signers, including Samuel Vener. Temple Beth Sholom began holding services that very same year. Old pictures show that services were packed with standing-room-only:
A Work of Art and a Historic Site
The building is still an example of Spanish architecture. Renovations occurred in 1967 when, among other changes, plaster walls were replaced with beautiful wood paneling. Builders also added three classrooms and a vestibule at the entrance to the synagogue. The library still preserves the original designs for the 1967 remodel. The library also includes a Passover Haggadah from the 1950s.
Sam Moskowitz, a co-founder, built the original Bimah and Ark, which still stands in its original form today.
One of their Torahs is over 100 years old, possibly originating from Germany. They also have an enameled silver Russian Torah pointer that was used during the first service in 1958. They have a small gift shop and soon plan to have an area for a museum.
The Past Presidents
Members of Temple Beth Shalom have kept a wide variety of memorabilia, including pictures of past Presidents. This was Max Weinstock who was President in 1968/69:
On the Temple’s memorial wall, the name Samuel Vener appears. For Chula Vista he is a historic figure since he played a major role in the construction of the waterfront. He also had several agricultural projects and businesses, even signing a labor contract with Cesar Chavez at one time.
Sidney Cornell, the founder the South Bay Historical Society in the 1950s, was also a member of Temple Beth Shalom.
The membership currently consists of South Bay locals as well as worshipers from Mexico. Interestingly, many Jews escaped from Europe in the 1930s and made it through Central America, reaching Mexico. With the move, they often concealed their Jewish background. Recently, there has been a resurgence of awareness. Some Tijuana residents have researched their names and found that they have descendants from Europe who were Jewish. Several now worship at Temple Beth Shalom as a way to rediscover their heritage.
Today, the Temple not only holds many events, including Israeli dancing and talks. You can check their website for services and upcoming events here.