Rabbi Isaiah Zeldin, founder of one of the largest Reform congregations in the country, dies at 97

Rabbi Isaiah Zeldin, founder of the Stephen Wise Temple in Los Angeles, shown in 1999.
(Boris Yaro / Los Angeles Times)

Rabbi Isaiah Zeldin, who founded Los Angeles’ Stephen Wise Temple, one of the largest synagogues in the country, has died at age 97.

Zeldin died peacefully Friday night at his home in Palm Desert surrounded by his family, the temple announced on its website.

“We mourn the loss of our founder, our Rabbi, our teacher, and our friend,” the announcement said. “We give thanks for the incredible legacy he leaves behind and for the blessings of his many contributions to our community, to the Jewish people, and to us personally.”

Zeldin founded Stephen Wise Temple on the eastern slope of the Sepulveda Pass in 1964 with a few dozen members. The temple eventually grew to 1,900 members, making it one of the largest Reform congregations in the country.

Funeral services are scheduled for 11 a.m. Monday at the temple followed by interment at Eden Memorial Park in the San Fernando Valley.


Zeldin is survived by his children, Joel, Karen, Michael and Terry; his brother, Bernard Zeldin; his eight grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren.

The family requests that donations be made to Stephen Wise Temple and Schools to establish the Rabbi Isaiah Zeldin Rabbinic Chair to honor his visionary leadership and support the continuation of his legacy.