The Hebrew Community Center had its formal beginning at a meeting in July 1947, called by Herman Rudnick, Louis Gordon, Nathan Werner, Irving Denenberg, and Myron Cohen. At the first meeting, a temporary organization was formed. Members were drawn from Florida, Chester, Warwick, and Goshen. A permanent organization, with by-laws, officers and a treasurer was developed within several months.
Hebrew and religious education for the children was the first task. The Florida Fire Department supplied a Sunday School room. Organization meetings, from the start, were held at the Florida American Legion Hall. During the first three years, High Holiday services were held in the Twin Pines home, a small boarding house on the Florida – Chester Road.
By 1949 a permanent center was a definite goal. In January 1951, a New Year’s Eve party was held with the ground floor 90% complete. The building was completed in early summer 1951, and was dedicated in the fall.
The women of the congregation organized soon after the general membership did, making it their special task to furnish the building. The altar and reading tables, seats, carpeting, draperies, kitchen, and much more were supplied through their work. First called the Ladies Auxiliary, they are now known as the Sisterhood of Temple Beth Shalom.
The land on which the center stands was a 100×200 foot parcel donated by David Werner. To that was added an adjacent lot 75×200 feet, donated by Samuel Chiron. The congregation itself purchased two additional lots totaling 175×100 feet, making the center property about 1½ acres of land. In 1956 the members added a home for the Rabbi and his or her family.
In keeping with their concern for the Jewish education of the children, the Chiron – Friedman School Wing was added to the Hebrew Community Center of Florida. Work began in October 1960. The cost of the school was $18,000. The wing was dedicated on Sunday, April 16, 1961.
In this period of the early 1960’s the membership added the all-important designation of Temple Beth Shalom to its name, thus emphasizing its identity as a house of worship. Land for a cemetery in Florida was acquired in 1968. Also at this time, after much deliberation, the members chose to affiliate with the Conservative Movement and joined the United Synagogues of America. This affiliation continued through 1974.
As the makeup of the membership changed, in 1974 it was decided that an affiliation with the Union of American Hebrew Congregations, the Reform Movement, would best serve the community. The official UAHC charter was presented to the congregation in 1976.
The next two decades found the temple growing in size until it became necessary, once again, to add classroom space to the building. In 1998, with a gift from the William and Viola Rosenberg family, matched by donations from the congregation, a five classroom addition with two handicapped accessible bathrooms and a ramp to the sanctuary was built. All of the interior work was done by temple members, who came together as a family to complete the task.
The Temple Beth Shalom of today offers a unique blend of Jewish culture to the Orange County community. Our congregants come to us from a variety of heritages. Although many faces have changed over the years Temple Beth Shalom is still a haimishe home for its members.
Just as the congregation takes pride in our rich temple history, it also looks ahead to a bright future.