Temple Emmanuel has served the Jewish families north of Boston for over 50 years, but the roots of our temple reach back into the late 1800’s. The first Jewish family settled in Wakefield in 1895. Mr. and Mrs. Morse Esner and Israel Esner made their home on Pleasant Street.
Three other Jewish families eventually migrated here, and around 1905 the first formal religious service was held in a vacant home near the Stoneham line, with congregants from the surrounding towns of Stoneham, Reading, North Reading, Lynnfield and Wakefield.
In 1910, formal Hebrew School classes were started at the home of Mr. Morris Slotnick, on Pearl Street. Twelve students were enrolled in the curriculum that consisted of transcription of the bible from Hebrew to Yiddish and writing the script of the Yiddish language. Later, as enrollment grew to twenty students, classes were held at the Grand Army of the Republic Hall at 7 Foster Street.
Another milestone was reached in 1915, when the Jewish community organized its congregation, to be known as Agudas Achim, “a company of brothers.” Temple Mishkan Tefila of Boston gave them permission to use the chapel at the cemetery at Lakeside Avenue for High Holidays worship.
The Wakefield Hebrew Ladies Charitable Society was formed in 1920. Involving many women from the neighboring towns, the Society was involved with countless charitable endeavors, as well as with the social needs of the Jewish community.
As the community grew, a committee was organized in 1945 for the purpose of establishing a permanent spiritual home within Wakefield. In 1946, twenty-two families joined to become Charter Members of Temple Emmanuel. Their dedication and enthusiasm were channeled into plans for finding permanent housing for the new Temple. Attorney Moses M. Frankel, first president of the Temple, stressed the need of unity as the foundation of a Temple of the spirit, without which, he said, “Physical structure is but an empty house, a hearth without a home.” During this time, High Holy Days services continued to be held at the chapel at Lakeside Avenue. Visiting Rabbis and Cantors were recruited for those services, and were housed at the homes of various congregants. Also, qualified teachers were hired for the religious teachings of the children and to prepare young boys for their bar-mitzvah ceremony, when they reached the age of thirteen.
Temple Emmanuel of Wakefield received its official charter from the Commonwealth of Massachusetts on the 17th day of April, 1947. With this formalization, Congregation Agudas Achim and the Wakefield Hebrew Ladies Charitable Society were dissolved and incorporated into the new Temple. Through the generosity of the YMCA, Temple Emmanuel’s religious school classes, along with the regular monthly meetings, were held at the Wakefield “Y” on Main Street. In 1950, Temple Mishkan Tefila, as a gift in recognition of the newly established Temple, deeded its chapel and cemetery on Lakeside Avenue to Temple Emmanuel.
The needs of its growing membership culminated in the purchase of the Yeuell family estate at 120 Chestnut Street for the express purpose of becoming Temple Emmanuel’s permanent home in 1951. Extensive renovations were made to accommodate the needs of a House of Worship. All churches in Wakefield donated money to the building fund. All of the Protestant churches also offered space in their buildings for services. The sanctuary was dedicated in 1952.
Classrooms, meeting and function rooms were completed, and a library was also later added. The Temple Emmanuel Sisterhood was formed to assist in the cultural as well as the general welfare of the Temple and the Jewish community, in addition to providing financial assistance to the Religious School. A Brotherhood was formed to provide activities for the male members and to assist the Temple in the various religious functions.
In 1950, Mrs. Rosamond Leavitt was elected President of Temple Emmanuel. A precedent was set when she became the first woman in the history of Conservative Jewish Houses of Worship to hold this office. Dr. Meyer S. Baer became the Temple’s first Rabbi in 1954. Although officially a part-time Rabbi, he served our Community for ten years. A sacred Torah was brought from Israel and presented to Temple Emmanuel by Dr. and Mrs. Joseph S. Leavitt. The first bar-mitzvah ceremony was held in the sanctuary. Barry Ruthfield was the honoree.
In 1964, Temple Emmanuel became a member of the Wakefield Council of Churches. That year a parish house was added to the Temple’s property at 5 Park Avenue, to serve the housing needs of Rabbi and Mrs. Baruch Goldstein, the Temple’s first full-time Rabbi. During the twenty-fifth charter night, a ceremony to burn the mortgage took place. In 1973, the religious school became known as the Community Hebrew Academic Institute, “CHAI School,” as it served the children of Wakefield as well as children of all of our surrounding towns.
(Information about Temple Emmanuel and its history was compiled by Elizabeth Freeman)