Despite progressive voices within the congregation, including that of former shul president Gabe Belt, the Conservative movement's haltingly slow but inexorable inclusion of women in shul life was vehemently opposed by the Temple's rabbi, who refused to allow women on the bimah.
convinced the rabbi to allow women to lead carefully-selected readings.
Gabe Belt, an honored and esteemed member of Temple Beth Zion was describing the first High Holiday services at the Temple which took place in the fall of 1946.
, the son of one of the founders of the Temple, told how his
parents along with 13 other families from Roxbury, Dorchester and Mattapan felt the need for a shul in their part of Brookline.
remembers as a 14 year old going from apartment house to apartment house, looking for Jewish names on the mailboxes.
would ring the doorbells of people he
thought might be Jewish and ask for donations.
And everyone who was asked gave.
The first High Holiday services of this new congregation took place in the Torf Funeral Home
at the corner of Washington and Beacon Street the same year.
The Rabbi who conducted the services was a member of Congregation Kehillath Israel; he
was paid $100.00 for the three days.
"The chapel was full," said Gabe
"There must have been at least 400 people attending our services."
"It was what they were used to in the old shuls in Roxbury or Dorchester," explained Gabe
According to Gabe
, 500 people showed up for the combined upstairs and downstairs services.
They would, in the words of Gabe
who organized these events, 'become a little mellow and quite generous.' These dinners could raise as much as $25,000 from 30-40 people.
Gabe was President of the Brotherhood and Temple for twelve years.
was responsible for organizing monthly breakfast meetings at which the participants would get together to eat lox and bagels and listen to local and national speakers.
made Man of the Year on January 14, l973.
There were variety shows, the musical, Fiddler on the Roof was put on in the Brookline High School
by members of the congregation (Gabe was the producer), and New Year's Eve parties at the Temple became a tradition.
Until the congregation aged and dwindled in number, Temple Beth Zion
played many roles in the lives of the Washington Square Jewish community.
was a revolutionary in the Temple.
led a movement to permit women to conduct part of the service and encountered great resistance from the Rabbi at that time.
felt very strongly that women should not be prohibited from participating in the service.
"Women are Jews too and should be allowed to worship equally as do the men." Although he
lost the battle over allowing women to have an aliyah, he
at least won permission to have them read parts of the service.
This caused such a rift in the congregation that many members who were against this change left.
The once-vibrant congregation went into a decline during the 80s and early 90s.
According to Gabe
, the now adult children of the original congregants moved away as did their retired parents.
Death took its toll and as few young Jews were joining, the membership shrank substantially.
Curiously, the decline in membership was not due to the paucity of Jews in the neighborhood.
They were moving to the Washington Square area in large numbers but according to Gabe
, they had little interest in Jewish activities.
But the Temple still had life in it and Gabe
, along with Irwin Pless and Joe Wilion, made a decision that was to transform the congregation.
By the end of the year, Gabe Belt
, Irwin Pless and Joe Wilion had convinced Reb Moshe
that Temple Beth Zion
itself was a community worth saving.