Union for Reform Judaism Member Congregation

UT History

The bema of the Union Temple sanctuary

The bema of the Union Temple sanctuary shortly after the conversion of auditorium.

A Landmark Congregation

Union Temple is the proud result of a merger between two renowned Brooklyn synagogues, each of which had served the Jewish community since the 19th century.

The first, Kahal Kadosh Beth Elohim, was the oldest Jewish congregation to be established in Brooklyn and Long Island. Officially founded in 1848 by German and Alsatian immigrants in what was the Village of Williamsburgh, its congregants continued to abide by traditional Jewish Orthodoxy. The second synagogue was Temple Israel, established in 1869 by a congregation following the Reform Movement, which had been newly brought to America by Rabbi Isaac Mayer Wise.

Over the years, Kahal Kadosh Beth Elohim also adopted the reforms of Rabbi Isaac Mayer Wise. Then, in 1921 the two temples merged. They named the new congregation Union Temple of Brooklyn to mark their coming together.

On the eve of Sukkot in 1929, the newly-merged Union Temple dedicated its community house at 17 Eastern Parkway. This grand and elegant 11-story building featured a theater, ballroom, classrooms, and a gym and pool. The theater was used for worship after the stock market crash in 1929 scuttled the original plan to build a separate sanctuary on land adjoining the community house.

Original Architect's drawing of Proposed Synagogue (never built) and Community House. 1927

Original Architect’s drawing of Proposed Synagogue (never built) and Community House. 1927

In 1942, when the congregation decided to permanently convert the theater into a sanctuary, the new bimah was modeled on the bimah of the Old Synagogue in Essen, Germany, which had been plundered by the Nazis. That is the beautiful bimah you see today.

Throughout this long history, Union Temple and its two predecessors were well-known for their tzedakah (justice) and gemilut chasadim .

  • Members created various Jewish philanthropic agencies in Brooklyn, such as the Brooklyn Hebrew Orphan Asylum, Jewish Hospital, Brooklyn Federation of Jewish Charities (which later merged with the Federation of Jewish Philanthropies), Hebrew Educational Society,  Hebrew Free Loan Society, and the Ladies’ Hebrew Benevolent Society.
  • During the Second World War, the Sisterhood Sewing Group turned itself into a Red Cross Workshop and produced thousands of surgical dressings for servicemen and women.
  • Union Temple ran a Red Cross Blood Bank Station, and held itself in a state of readiness as an Emergency Disaster Relief Center for the community.
  • During the post-War years, on Thanksgiving, Union Temple Brotherhood hosted a dinner for Jewish orphans with the Brooklyn Dodgers.