The Spirit of Emanu-El

Celebrating our past, present and future on our 175th anniversary


Rabbi Joshua Davidson

By now, you may be familiar with our synagogue’s founding story — our journey from a second-floor loft on the Lower East Side to our majestic Fifth Avenue sanctuary; our emergence from a small gathering of thirty-three German Jews into a proud congregation of 2,300 member households, among the largest Reform temples in our nation. That we have grown so dramatically over our 175 years is a testament to our success, but not its essence. Our progress was driven by a yearning and an ability to shape an American Judaism that better reflected the promise of the New World, a desire and a creativity to express our venerable faith in vibrant new ways.

Innovation. Bold aspirations. Love of Jewish culture and tradition. Relevance. Community. These have been hallmarks of Temple Emanu-El since our founding. And our 175th anniversary year will honor that marvelous legacy, and, just as significantly, anticipate our next chapter.

On Rosh Hashanah, I shared former temple president Louis Marshall’s proposal ninety years ago to move our synagogue uptown from 43rd street to its current location at 65th and Fifth. On that historic occasion, he declared: “It is for us to carry forward the Ark of the Covenant…to enlarge our horizons, to become builders.” When we consider the troubled and ever-changing world around us and recognize the role that such moral touchstones as faith and community play for us, we understand this anniversary as our time “to enlarge our horizons” and “carry forward the Ark.”

In many ways, we have already begun. The Streicker Center continues to offer engaging events, classes and trips exploring Jewish history, thought and culture, and attracting members and non-members alike. The Bernard Museum’s exhibitions, including the current exhibit on the life of Barbra Streisand, “Hello Gorgeous,” have received critical acclaim. Emanu-El Explorers, Explorers on the Go, and many new Young Families programs offer Jewish educational opportunities tailored to the needs of parents throughout the city. “Gather” groups, successfully launched this year, connect our congregants in intimate settings and build communities within our congregation that are relevant to them and to their time of life. Steadily, over the past several years, we have expanded our offerings to improve the membership experience. And yet, much more remains to be done if our synagogue is truly to play a central role in our members’ lives, throughout their lives.

At the same time, Temple Emanu-El is committed to effecting change beyond our walls. Our temple’s social action efforts, including upcoming Tikkun Olam programs like Project Prom and Second Seder, provide meaningful ways for our members to make a difference in our local community. And we must reach further, exemplifying and amplifying the principles of Reform Judaism — not just for Jews, but also to build bridges to neighbors and friends who share our commitments to social responsibility, justice and equality in a diverse, often discordant, society, and to address the rise of anti-Semitism and other forms of hate.

Our first 175 years have been glorious. Temple Emanu-El has been blessed with good fortune and great leadership which recognized the potential of, and in, our congregation to lead the Jewish world, and worked hard to bring us from that rented loft to a New York City landmark. Together we must ensure that our next chapter is just as vibrant. More on that subject in the months ahead.

But now we celebrate! Throughout the course of the coming year we will rejoice in our historic past, exciting present and bright future. A special rededication service appropriately scheduled for Chanukah will feature noted government and Jewish community leaders. But the celebration begins June 5th with a Shabbat evening for young and old and every age between. Following a brief 5:30 service, we will walk to the Central Park Zoo for the largest Shabbat dinner in the history of Temple Emanu-El. Be with us as, with great joy, we kick off our next 175 years!

Rabbi Joshua M. Davidson

Temple Emanu-El Turns 175!

Friday, June 5

This Spring we begin the yearlong celebration of the 175th anniversary of our congregation, marking Emanu-El’s exciting journey from a bare loft on the Lower East Side to our majestic sanctuary on Fifth Avenue, and from 33 members to 2,300 households.

And on June 5, we invite you to kick-off the celebration with a special Shabbat Dinner at the Central Park Zoo, where:

  • Longtime members will reunite with old friends
  • New Members will the warm embrace of the Emanu-El community
  • Young Professionals will clink glasses and celebrate under the stars
  • Children will marvel at a fun animated film, giggle at their specially-painted Shabbat faces and enjoy a private visit with the animals

Beginning at 5:30 PM with a brief special service at Temple Emanu-El

$36 Adult | $18 Children (under 18)
Free admission for children under 5

For Temple Members only.