(Above: The Sanders family in 2015.)
The History of CBB
The Jewish community in Santa Barbara began with a few families immigrating to a new land with the hope of fresh opportunities. Approximately 20 Jewish immigrants arrived in Santa Barbara from France in 1875, but for years there were not enough Jewish residents here to organize a congregation with a house of worship.
The first documented services were held at the Recreation Center (still on the corner of Carrillo and Anacapa Streets) in 1920, and in private homes around that time. Max Rosenthal hosted the first High Holy Day services at his home in 1924 with a Torah donated by Max Friedman. Services were led by Marie Levy, the only person in Santa Barbara at that time who could read Hebrew. The first Bar Mitzvah was that of Maurice Rosenthal, at his home in 1925. Rabbi Trattner of Los Angeles officiated.
B’nai B’rith was organized in 1926, according to some accounts, with the first meeting taking place in the home of Henry O. Swartzberg. In 1927, a charter for the congregation was procured and non-profit status was applied for by a group of residents including Irving Firestone, Max Friedman, Lester Girsh, D.H. Hein, Louis Kaplan, Nathan Leeker, Julius Liker, J. Ross, Joseph Safina, Leo Sanders, A. Snyder, Henry Swatzberg, Max Washer, Nathan Weides and I. Wilensky.
I. Wilensky, L. Kaplan, S. Klein, A. Levy, Lester Girsh, J. Miller with Officers A.L. Friedlander, Max Friedman, Irving Firestone and Henry Swatzberg comprised CBB’s first Board of Trustees and crafted the synagogue’s first bylaws in 1931.
From 1920 until 1931, services were held at the Rosenthal, Sanders, and Friedman homes, as well as the Eagle Hall or other large gathering places. Max Friedman was the initial president of the new congregation.
Dr. Lester Girsh bought the Parmalee property in the 2300 block of State Street, which later was traded for a grocery store and land on the corner of Garden and Figueroa Streets, and remodeling work on the building began. After hoping for a home of their own for meetings and social gatherings, the group moved into their place of worship and community center in May, 1932. The sisterhood held their first meeting on May 12, and, according to the newspaper article, this was followed by serving refreshments to the men of the congregation, and “a general jollification ensued as a result of the completion of their community center.”
The furnishings were purchased by the Sisterhood, the officers of which were Mrs. Firestone, Mrs. Swartzberg, and Mrs. Friedman. Nathan Leeker donated the altar, and the Torah was presented by Max Friedman and Louis Kaplan. Rabbi J.K. Levin came from Los Angeles to dedicate the building on the night of June 12, 1932, in the presence of about 150 people.
The original intent of this body was to build a synagogue on the 50 by 75 foot adjoining lot when the Jewish population had grown and the congregation was financially able to erect it. However, at the end of World War II, with many more Jews settling in Santa Barbara, larger quarters were needed, and “the Leo Sanders House” at 2112 Santa Barbara Street was secured in 1950.
Ten years later, the congregation began planning a temple, and after searching for suitable land for some time, acquired a five-acre site at 900 San Antonio Creek Road, when many other denominations were finding that churches, which had located outside the older “residential section” were functioning well.
Our present building was dedicated formally at the 1968 Rosh Hashanah services led by Rabbi Israel Koller. Rabbi Jonathan Kendall became spiritual leader in 1979 and it was in the mid 1980’s that Sam Cohon, our first Cantor was hired, as well as our first full time Director of Education, Bev Abrams. Also at this time, there was an incredible swelling of the membership numbers, which allowed for expanded programs, including the opening of Beit ha’Yeladim Preschool and our Havurah gatherings.
In 1990, Rabbi Arthur Gross-Schaefer was installed as Rabbi, followed in 1992 by Rabbi Richard Shapiro. In 1991, Mark Childs became our second Cantor and was hired to be co-clergy of the congregation. Our focus on social action became a high priority and interfaith activities also filled our volunteer time. Our need for a larger pre-school was evident and the new classrooms and playground took form. Rabbi Rick created the Beit Midrash and engaged many of our youth in the activities of SBORTY.
Another decade arrived with more incredible changes. At more than 400 families in 2000 (many of them young families) it was evident that a larger preschool was desperately needed. The new building was dedicated in 2001 with 6 classrooms and the ability to enroll up to 72 children. July 2003 began a year of transition and renewal for our congregation under Rabbi Sugarman in an interim position.
Stephen Cohen became our Rabbi during the summer of 2004 and once again our membership reached new heights. Today we have 800 family units and programs that fill our calendar just about every day of every month. This enormous growth and increased programming necessitated our hiring our first Executive Director Richard Silver in 2005 followed by his successor Deborah Naish in 2007. Our current Executive Director Elizabeth Gaynes has served in this position since 2015, supported by a dynamic and inspired team of professional staff. We also engaged Alyson Solomon, our first Assistant Rabbi in 2009, followed by Associate Rabbi Suzy Stone in 2012, and Assistant Rabbi Daniel Brenner in 2018.
Our newly renovated building was first utilized for Yom Kippur evening services in 2008, 40 years, almost to the day, since another gathering of Jews had entered that same building to commemorate its initial opening. The tradition continues, L’Dor v’Dor – from generation to generation. The longevity and vitality of this congregation are living testimony to the Jewish spirit that has contributed so much to the Santa Barbara community.
A special thank you to the people who filled our synagogue with Torah scrolls between 1924 and 1965: Max Rosenthal, Joseph Safina, Harry Kirsch, and Alex & Gloria Shustin. We also thank Barney & Valerie Abrahams for their donation of a Czech Memorial Torah Scroll, and for the Temple’s Outdoor Chapel, dedicated in 1983.
To read reflections from Rube Boxer, Board President from 1960 – 1961 please click here.[updated July 2018]