There were only a few Jewish families in Glendale in the 1920s. They were attracted to the growing city by the opportunity to open their own small businesses, according to Harold Singer, who came here at 13with his parents, Esreal and Eva Singer.
"The three blocks between Broadway and Lexington Drive on Brand Boulevard had been severely overbuilt and stores were available for $50 or $75 per month," he wrote in The Scribe, a Temple Sinai newsletter, in 2002. "These rents enabled the small merchant to survive."
The Singers opened a dress shop called the French Model Shop at 227 N. Brand Blvd., directly across from the Alex Theatre.
Harold Singer wrote that most of these early arrivals were of similar backgrounds and formed a cohesive group held together by similar backgrounds and experiences.
"They held Saturday morning Minyan services at each other's homes," he wrote. "They were able to conduct their own religious service without a rabbi, because they had been so thoroughly schooled in religious studies as youths in Europe's Hebrew schools."
The mothers formed a Sunday School for the children and later the families held their worship services in a small room over Ralphs grocery store on East Broadway, Singer added.
The temple was established in 1928, during the time they were meeting above Ralphs, according to a Glendale News-Press article from April 25, 2003.
Genevieve Fisher, daughter of tailor Mike Berman, (also a member of Glendale's early Jewish community), said a woman who lived on Elk Avenue arranged for the Sunday School classes. There they heard stories from the Old Testament, sang holiday songs and other songs that had been translated from Hebrew.
"I was about 7 or 8 then," she said.
She recalled attending services in a tiny house with 10 people or so, not far from what is now Roosevelt Middle School.
"We had meetings there," she added.
They couldn't afford a rabbi at first, so people from the group would speak.
In 1939, the congregation met for their first Sabbath evening service in their new Windsor Road meeting place, according to the Aug. 9, 1939 Glendale News-Press, which cited the "enthusiastic leadership of Mike Berman."
Berman led the campaign for the new building that was set well back on the property. The hall had seating for 200, with folding doors for two classrooms, while a large patio surrounding a tall walnut tree provided an outdoor setting for social gatherings.
Serving with Berman on the building committee were M.H. Sternseher, Joseph Levey, Herbert Mitchelson, Syd Green and I. Rosenblum.
"The congregation held services on Windsor Road except on High Holy Days when too many people attended," Harold Singer said in a recent telephone interview.
For those special days, they obtained a meeting place at Brand and Harvard Street.
"We would walk from the Windsor site, carrying the Torahs so we'd have them for the service."
The temple community was small at first and most of the families lived in Glendale.
Eventually, when the membership grew to about 50 families, the congregation raised money to build Temple Sinai on Pacific Avenue.
Katherine Yamada's column runs every other Friday. To contact her, call features editor Joyce Rudolph at (818) 637-3241. For more information on Glendale's history, visit the Glendale Historical Society's web page: http://www.glendalehistorical.org; call the reference desk at the Central Library at (818) 548-2027; or call (818) 548-2037 to make an appointment to visit the Special Collections Room at Central from 10 a.m. to noon and 1 to 3 p.m., Tuesdays and Thursdays.
Readers Write: Regarding your article on downtown Glendale in the 1950s — the toy store referred to was The Toy House. It was on the corner of California Avenue and Brand Boulevard before the JCPenney's store was rebuilt at that location. My friend Dee Dee Nielson and I worked there summers and Christmas holidays during our high school years. That was the mid-1950s. Signed, Janice Drugan