Temple Israel plans celebration for its 70th

Sunday, April 14, 12 pm, Temple Israel

In keeping with its longstanding tradition, Temple Israel will observe its platinum jubilee anniversary with ample helpings of Jewish music and Jewish food. Tickets and sponsorships, of course, are available.

The 70th anniversary milestone celebration of Temple Israel’s founding will include an extravagant dairy lunch catered by renowned local chef Larry Adler and live music by Bagels and Fraylox, a popular Williamsburg band performing a variety of Klezmer and other tunes, wedding and party music of 19th century Eastern Europe, with strains of Yiddish theater and American dance band music of the early 1900s.

Seventy years ago, the Wards Corner section of Norfolk was well on its way to becoming a bustling shopping mecca. Construction in the area was booming – homes filled with young families eager for a more suburban life. Many of those families were Jewish; many were children of the great Jewish immigration of the early century.

Wards Corner had it all – a shopping center with a grocery store, a movie theatre, tree-lined peaceful neighborhoods. What it didn’t have was a shul. It was against that backdrop in the early 1950s that a group of Jewish leaders got together to talk about the possibility of establishing a new synagogue in the area. Among that initial group were Hy Swartz, Jacob Brody, Al Fleder, Sam Sandler, Cal Breit, and Sam Rosenblatt. Their dream was to provide a community shul, a spiritual home in the burgeoning suburb where Jewish families could grow and thrive.

Meetings were scheduled, funders were approached, commitments were made, and a formal planning session for the proposed Wards Corner congregation was held on December 11, 1952. One week later, under the name Temple Israel, the first Friday evening service was held at Ben Moreell Chapel. Area churches housed the fledgling congregation until the location on Granby Street was secured and the temple built.

On September 12, 1954, Temple Israel’s first president, Hy Swartz, laid the cornerstone. Inside the stone was – and remains – a copper box containing a Siddur, a Tanakh, the minutes of the first congregational meeting, and the names of the 175 charter members.

For the first 30 years of its life, Temple Israel’s spiritual leader was Rabbi Joseph Goldman, of blessed memory. He was succeeded by Rabbi Saul Hyman and later Rabbi Stuart Altshuler. In 1992, after an exhaustive national search, Rabbi Michael Panitz was hired. Rabbi Panitz has remained in that position, and in 2023, the congregation celebrated his 30th anniversary at Temple Israel. He has been a strong leader, not just for the Temple Israel congregation, but also for all of Tidewater’s Jewish, interfaith, and academic communities. Working with strong lay leadership, Rabbi Panitz has led the congregation through three decades of simchas, challenges, and triumphs.

Clarinet $7,500 12 tickets
Drums 5,000 10 tickets
Bass 2,500 8 tickets
Accordion1,000 6 tickets
Saxophone 500 4 tickets
Piano 250 2 tickets

With membership today that reaches far beyond the Wards Corner corridor – regular daily minyanaires Zoom in from California, New York, Atlanta, and Canada – Temple Israel is proud of its noble history, excited to celebrate its first 70 years of service to the Jewish community, and anticipating with equal excitement the simchas, challenges, and triumphs that lie ahead.

Individual tickets are $36. For more information or to reserve a space, go to templeisraelva.org or call 757-489-4550.