The TBE Story
The year was 1927.
Thirteen Poughkeepsie families had been worshipping together for several years. Not comfortable in either the Orthodox or Reform congregations already available in the city, they decided the time was right to found their own congregation. As early as 1925, they held their own High Holy Day services in a building owned by Mr. I.H. Spitz. This Fallkill Building was on the corner of Main and Washington Streets. In October, 1927. They decided to purchase their own building from the Society of Friends. If you drive down Montgomery Street, you can see that original building at 110-112 Montgomery St. The synagogue formally opened its doors in 1928. In 1930, the synagogue acquired the Temple Beth-El cemetery on Route 44.
Long time residents of Poughkeepsie will recognize some of the names of the founders: Albert, Braw, Fleishman, Goldstein, Katz, Klein, Lass, Perlmutter, Rosen, Spitz, Tofel. Major R. Rosen was elected the first president of Temple Beth-El.
Rabbi Haselkorn, former rabbi of Vassar Temple, served as Rabbi from 1935 until he entered the service n 1942. He was followed by Rabbi Holzer who served until 1946. From the beginning , Samuel Pressman volunteered as Cantor until his death in 1953.
Then in 1946, the growing congregation took a chance on a young rabbi who had recently immigrated to NYC from Germany. He, his wife Lilli and their young child Miriam arrived in Poughkeepsie and eagerly embraced their new home and community. And the community embraced this charismatic, loving and dedicated couple as well. For over 40 years, Rabbi Zimet oversaw this community as it grew from 75 families to 350 families while on Montgomery Street and from 1959 to over 800 families in our present home on 118 South Grand Avenue.
Lilli started a High Holiday Choir and a Youth Choir and ran the the religious school until the late 1980’s. As an early childhood educator, Lilli also taught nursery school for many years. During this period of growth, Sidney Rabinowitz became the first professional cantor at Temple Beth-El and in 1967, Cantor Joseph Wieselman started his more than 20 year tenure as congregational cantor.
In 1987 the congregation hired Rabbi Stanley Schachter for a year, followed by Rabbi Charles Feinberg and Rabbi Jonathan Case. In 1990 Cantor Rena Shapiro joined Temple Beth-El as the first woman cantor and Miriam Rubin began her long tenure as principal of the religious school.
In 2002 TBE won the prestigious STAR Synsplex grant which funded creative and innovative programming over the course of three years. We became one of the first synagogues to embark on a three-year journey to engage our membership with creative Shabbat programs.
From August 2006 until September 2014, Rabbi Neal Loevinger served the congregation. He brought his intellect and commitment to pastoral care and tikun olam to his work. Under his leadership we added an interfaith section to the Temple Beth-El Cemetery. He is now serving as Director of Spiritual Care and Ethics Coordinator at Vassar Hospital Medical Center.
Our prior leader, Rabbi Daniel Victor, brought the congregation into its next phase- redefining the synagogue’s mission and goals based on the changing needs of the community.
Rabbi Michael Fessler became our spiritual leader in November 2021. Rabbi Miriam Hyman serves as Rosh Tifilah- prayer leader- and director of a dynamic re-envisioned religious school and youth program. Together with a professional staff and strong lay leadership as well as with involvement of a diverse, engaged membership, Temple Beth El is poised to meet the demands and challenges of modern Jewish synagogue life.