Encyclopedia Of Detroit

Temple Beth El

Temple Beth El, the first Jewish congregation in Michigan, was established in Detroit on September 22, 1850. 12 German immigrant families met in the home of Isaac and Sarah Cozens at Congress and St. Antoine streets to form the Beth El Society. For ten years the growing congregation worshiped in private homes, above commercial buildings, or in other borrowed spaces. In 1861, the congregation purchased the former French Methodist Church on Rivard Street. By 1867, the congregation had outgrown its quarters and purchased the former Tabernacle Baptist Church at Washington Boulevard and Clifford Street.

Rapid growth of the congregation led to the construction in 1903 of a Temple at Woodward Avenue and Eliot Street, designed by architect Albert Kahn, a member of the congregation. This location is now Wayne State University’s Bonstelle Theatre. In 1922, when membership exceeded 800 families, the congregation built a new home at Woodward and Gladstone Street, also designed by Kahn. Once again, the membership outgrew its facilities. In 1973, the decision was made to move to the present location at Telegraph and 14 mile roads in Bloomfield Hills.

Architect Minoru Yamasaki was selected to design the new sanctuary and religious complex which is composed of a 1,000-seat sanctuary, administrative building, museum of sacred objects, chapel, religious school, and library.
The temple is a "tent-like" structure built of poured concrete and aluminum designed to represent the meeting tents of the ancient Israelites. Four large columns support twin ridge beams between which there is a skylight. Between these beams are steel roof cables that support the lead-coated copper roof.

Many objects from the previous homes of Temple Beth El are housed in the present synagogue, including the original ark, eternal flame and menorah light fixtures. The Heinigke and Smith medallion Ten Commandment windows from the 1903 building were removed and set in the glass walls of the foyer to the Helen DeRoy Sanctuary. The interior features a tall bronze Torah ark designed by sculptor Bernard Rosenthal.

Originally an Orthodox congregation, Temple Beth El is a Reform Jewish Congregation and is one of the original charter members of the Union for Reform Judaism.



Temple Beth El Exterior, c.1960 – 2010.004.371

Bonstelle Theatre Exterior, c.1973 – 2012.046.614

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