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TBS Historical Outline

The history of Temple Beth Shalom reflects the growth of the Jewish population in Needham, as the Temple was the first Jewish organization formed in town. This history is not long – just over 100 years. 

Pioneers laid the groundwork to establish a Reform Jewish temple in Needham before 1955.


• The first Jews arrive in Needham -- David and Elizabeth Simon. Family members and friends followed their lead. 

• On October 17th 18 Jewish families in Needham established the Needham Jewish Community Group, forerunner of Temple Beth Shalom. Mrs. Meyer White was the first Chair and Meyer Gordon the first President. 

• A Hebrew School was established for 14 children. Mary Sacks was Chairwoman, and the group met on Sundays in the American Legion Hall and in a private home. Tuition was $25 per child. 

• The Scroll began publication, edited by Evelyn Shore. 

• Hillel Gameron, a rabbinical student, conducted the first High Holiday services, held at the First Parish Church in Needham. Services continued to be held in area churches until the Temple was built. 

• The Needham Jewish Community Center was incorporated to expand the activities of the Needham Jewish Community Group and to work more closely with other Jewish religious organizations locally and nationally. 

In its first 25 years as a Reform congregation, Temple Beth Shalom became established as a Needham institution.


• The Needham Jewish Community Center joined the Union of American Hebrew Congregation (today the Union for Reform Judaism). This major decision was a close vote since the members included people who were also of Conservative and Orthodox beliefs. 

• Rabbi Herbert Yarrish was hired as the first of several part time rabbis and Harmon Shufro became the first cantor. 

• The first torah was consecrated. A congregant brought it by train to Needham from a congregation in Baltimore that closed. 

• The land at Webster and Highland was purchased for $10,000. 

• The Needham Jewish Community Center held the first consecration and 45 children participated. 

• The Needham Jewish Community Center was renamed Temple Beth Shalom. 

• A Garden Club began. It continues to create beautiful flower arrangements each week for the Shabbat Service as well as for holidays and special events. 

• The Sisterhood began, evolving from an earlier Women’s Group. It continues to thrive as a vibrant community with about 250 members and includes women of several generations. 

• Rabbi Albert Yanow became the first full-time spiritual leader. 

• Edward M. Appel became the first bar mitzvah on September 20th in a service held at the First Parish Church. 

• On November 30th ground was broken for the new building, which cost $120,000. The dedication was in October 1959. The facility included only a single room that served as a sanctuary, social hall and classroom. This room was named Simon Hall acknowledging a donation from Philip and Rose Simon in honor of their parents, the first Jews in Needham. 

• The Brotherhood was established, growing out of an earlier Men’s Club. Today the group numbers about 80 members. 

• Rabbi Daniel Lee Kaplan became the second full-time rabbi. 

• Groundbreaking for a new wing took place in the fall, and it was dedicated in April 1965. The Ark was dedicated to both to Ida and Philip Gordon, one of the first Jewish families in Needham and parents of Meyer Gordon, and to the parents of his wife Edith. A mural for the ark was commissioned from Canadian artist Ronald Satok. 

• A nursery school was established, led by Paulyne Raemer. Today it is called the Children’s Center. There were 72 students enrolled in 2010-11.

• Rabbi Rievan W. Slavkin became the third Temple rabbi. 

• Organist Joe Policelli, who still creates beautiful music for our services, was hired. 

In its second 25 years, from 1980 – 2005, Temple Beth Shalom grew to maturity and national recognition.


• Rabbi Rifat Sonsino became the Temple’s fourth rabbi in 1980. 

• Rabbi Sonsino expanded all aspects of Temple life by creating many new programs including the Outreach Committee, the Adult Bat Mitzvah program, the family seder on the second night of Passover, the Kallah educational retreat, and the Twenty/Thirty Something Group. His many books helped to bring national recognition to the Temple. 

• Muriel Freedman was hired as the Temple’s first administrator, serving from 1982 -1990. 

• Ina Glasberg became the first woman president in 1989. 

• A renovation was completed of the lobby and administrative wing. The Temple became handicap-accessible. 

• Cantor Lori Salzman became the Temple’s cantor, serving until 2005. 

• Sandy Whitecross became the Temple’s Education Director. The religious school had 367 students in 2004-5. 

• Rabbi Sonsino retired and became the Temple’s first Rabbi Emeritus. 

• Rabbi Jay Perlman joined the Temple as its fifth full-time rabbi. In his first year, the Temple grew to 600 households, 10 times as many as in 1955, when it became a Reform congregation. 

• Renovation began of the sanctuary and lower level in October, to be completed in summer 2005. 

• The Temple celebrated its Jubilee year, culminating in a weekend of special events in May including a production of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat

• The renovated sanctuary is dedicated. 

Temple Beth Shalom moves “from strength to strength” in the Twenty-First Century. 


• Rabbi Todd Markley became the first assistant rabbi at the Temple; he is later promoted to Associate Rabbi.


• Jonathan Kappel became the first second generation president


• Cantor Marcie Jonas joined the Temple as Cantor and musical leader. She served until 2016.

• Ellen Dietrick became the Temple’s Director of Early Childhood Learning. 

• Daniel Barkowitz became the Temple’s first Executive Director.  He served until 2015. 


2012 – 2014
• The Mikdash project was initiated culminating in construction beginning in 2015 to renovate and expand the temple. 

• The religious school was closed in 2012, and the new Mayim (K-5th grade) approach began in 2012; the new 8 -12th grade approach began in 2014.  Bump, Babies and Beyond began in 2014.

• In 2013 Rachel Happel became the Director of K-12 Learning and Rabbi Jordi Battis became the Director of K-12 Curriculum in 2014.


• Rabbi Todd Markley was promoted to co-senior rabbi with Rabbi Jay Perlman.



• The new 6-7th grade approach began in 2016.
• Mikdash will be completed in 2016, and the Temple’s year “in the wilderness” will end.

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