100th Anniversary of Temple Beth-El
Updated: Aug 18, 2019
By Rod Leith, Rutherford Borough Historian
During a recent conversation with Rabbi Yitzchok Lerman of Temple Beth El, he explained that the actual date for the establishment of the congregation with its own shul, or synagogue, was in April 1919 in East Rutherford. Records show there was what was called the South Bergen Hebrew Institute, which was at 147 Park Avenue, East Rutherford. Records also show the synagogue became known as the Jewish Center of South Bergen, commonly known as Temple Beth-El.
The Jewish Center of South Bergen acquired the property and house at 185 Montross Avenue in Rutherford in 1953 from the Willis family. The owner was Caroline M. Willis, wife of the well-known Rutherford physician, Dr. Benedict Willis. Caroline Willis had purchased the house from Rudolph and Hannah Dannheim on May 24, 1923. It is historically known as Dannheim House due to the fact that Rudolph Dannheim acquired the 17.8 lots of property in 1888 and had the house designed and built in 1890 by the architect-builder Herman Fritz. It is a 2 1/2-story Queen Anne, highlighted by its hipped roof and centered tower. There are other classic Fritz features still visible in the house, which stands at the corner of Fairview and Montross avenues, across from the Woman's Club. Fritz designed a conical hexagon roof, capped with a crested finial. It has a random ashlar brownstone foundation. The view of its extended wrap-around front porch brings the observer back to the genteel quaintness of the Gilded Age.
Once the Dannheim House was acquired from the Willis family in 1953, the South Bergen Jewish Center selected an architectural committee headed by Lee Lane and performed some needed interior modifications to accommodate the congregation of Temple Beth-El. The committee hired New York architect Andrew M. Lewis, a Rutherford resident, to prepare plans for interior features that included a combination auditorium-gymnasium, conference room and classrooms. Lewis's designs provided for an addition dedicated in 1955. The Lane committee insisted that any new construction should blend harmoniously with the existing Fritz architecture.
Hi Today, Temple Beth-El is a shul that many Jews view as accommodating and friendly to members as well as visitors. The Rutherford synagogue welcomes Jews from all over South Bergen, including Carlstadt, East Rutherford, Garfield, Hasbrouck Heights, Little Ferry, Lodi, Lyndhurst, Moonachie, North Arlington, Wallington and Wood-Ridge. Rabbi Yitzchok Lerman, who joined Temple Beth-el in 2014, and his wife, Bina, are viewed as offering deep experience in Jewish outreach and education.