A FUSION OF TWO TEMPLES:
In the mid-1950s, there were two Jewish congregations in the then relatively small City of Downey. Both chose the path of Reformed Judaism, but only one held a charter from the Union of American Hebrew Congregations. Representatives from both congregations met with Rabbi Solomon F. Kleinman, then associate director of the UAHC, to discuss a merger. In 1957, the Downey Jewish Center Temple was formed. It was the forerunner of Temple Ner Tamid of Downey and was to become the oldest operating Jewish temple in southeastern Los Angeles County.
The first full-time spiritual leader of the Downey Jewish Center Temple, Rabbi Lloyd Goldman, guided the congregation through its difficult beginnings, administering the Hebrew and Sunday schools, presiding over Bar Mitzvahs and other life-cycle events, as well as serving the ritual and spiritual needs of the congregation.
After the merger, the congregation owned two facilities. But it became obvious that a single building complex was needed to provide the Jews of Downey and surrounding communities with a religious school for their children, a sanctuary for worship , and a fellowship hall for social and cultural activities.
This decision prompted a serious fund-raising effort directed toward a new home for the congregation. Lectures and plays, carnivals and garage sales, concerts and auctions, potlucks and bake sales all were planned and realized. Larry Shiller, of blessed memory, chaired the committee to select the architect and oversee the project.
1962: A SEMINAL YEAR:
It was the year the present temple was built, the congregation chose a new name and engaged the services of Rabbi Martin B. Ryback.
It was in 1962 that, first, the foundation was laid; then the walls went up, and finally the roof was added to our new building. The classrooms were then completed. It was decided that the Downey Jewish Center Temple needed a new name. A list of potential names was submitted, and Temple Ner Tamid of Downey – Eternal Light – was selected by a majority vote.
Rabbi Ryback served our congregation for 15 years and offered guidance at critical turns in the temple’s early history.
1970s: A SOUND FOOTING:
After paying on the mortgage for nine years, Nate Benson and Sam Marcus, both of blessed memory, co-chaired a committee established to raise the funds necessary to pay off the temple’s mortgage. We fondly remember Adolf Weinberg, of blessed memory, who generously matched all donations dollar-for-dollar. We raised the necessary funds, paid off the mortgage immediately and celebrated with a triumphant mortgage-burning ceremony.
Many member families of the original merged congregation are still active members of Temple Ner Tamid today. A generation of young people have passed through our temple’s schoolrooms, Some are still members of our congregation, and their children are in our religious school. Others have left the area, but their ties remain. On High Holy Days, when families traditionally join together in worship, we welcome home many of our former members.
1980s: SPIRITUAL AND SECULAR LEADERSHIP:
Following the Rabbi Ryback years, we enjoyed the services of several rabbis—notably among them Rabbi Stuart Lasher and Rabbi Michael Mayersohn—as well as a series of rabbis who served for relatively short periods.
The Temple Sisterhood flourished and its Brotherhood took on important roles in fundraising and community building for the temple. The Ezra Center was formed and has since used our facility to gather seniors for lunch, lectures and camaraderie.
No synagogue is complete without its Torah. Although there was indeed a Torah prior to the completion of our complex, three very special torahs have taken their place in our Ark since our synagogue was built.
Through the efforts of Leo and Sheila Pinsky and the Union of American Hebrew Congregations, a sacred Holocaust Torah was acquired. After the war, Westminster Synagogue in London rescued hundreds of Torahs from the Hitler-ravaged countries of Europe. Westminster Synagogue undertook the responsibility for the repair, storage and distribution of these historic, sacred remnants of the Holocaust to small congregations throughout the world. As we are privileged to have had many Holocaust survivors in our congregation, so are we privileged to have received a Holocaust Torah.
1990s: SUPPORT FROM WITHIN:
Our Hazzan and interim spiritual leader Lance H. Tapper concluded 15 years of devoted service with a special recognition in the late 1990s. The education programs had also flourished with his guidance. At that time, Rabbi Haim Dov Beliak, had initiated an outreach program that successfully moved the congregation toward greater openness in welcoming new members. It particularly contributed to the addition of converts and nontraditional families to further enrich the fabric of the temple family.
Our second special Torah was a gift from the family of a local Methodist minister. Upon the minister’s demise, his family found a Torah stored in his attic and they presented the Torah scroll as a gift to our congregation. The 16th century Sephardic scroll, which was wrapped in a mantle, was
placed in the Ark. It remained there until 1995, when Mario and Gloria Magat traveled to Israel and purchased a unique Torah case and silver finials for it. Upon their return, the Magats had the Torah submitted to a Sofar, who inspected and repaired it. The Torah was lovingly added to the family of Torahs regularly used at temple rituals.
The team of Rabbi Efraim Warshaw and Cantor Kenneth Jaffe are, with inspiration and good cheer, leading the temple into the second decade of the century. Cantor Jaffe was welcomed back very warmly in 2009, after having served a few years ago as the temple’s spiritual leader.
One of our past presidents, Henry L. Bear, a Downey attorney, was honored as Man of the Year by the temple on its 40th anniversary. At that time, Temple President David Saltzman acknowledged pillars of the congregation, both longtime stalwarts Babroff, Dickinson, Elicks, Lazarus, Levin, Linde, Magat, Mendel, Pinsky, Taslitt and Weisler, and newer members: Bennett, Kaplowitz, Miess and Perry.
Maestro Norberto Guinaldo, a classical music composer who has been a beloved member of the temple family practically since this facility was built, celebrated his 50th anniversary as Temple Ner Tamid Organist in 2008 by honoring the congregation with a special concert. He has for more than a decade been joined during the High Holy Days by a professional choir.
The third special Torah also arrived in 2008, when Howard and Miriam Brookfield honored the temple with its donation. At the time, Howard was a former President of Temple Ner Tamid and Miriam was a former Vice President. The scroll was carried in a congregation procession into the sanctuary under a chuppah, the traditional wedding canopy, for its installation ceremony on Jan. 13, 2008. Temple Rabbi Len Muroff read from the scroll and the ceremony also included Temple Cantor Ellen Jaffe-Gill and Rabbi Howard Laibson of Congregation Shir Chadash in Lakewood, who grew up at Temple Ner Tamid, as well as Temple President David Saltzman and past President Jim Pinsky. Jim and Myrtle Pinsky sponsored an elaborate luncheon after the ceremony.
In addition to receiving torahs, the temple has, in turn, played a role in providing a torah to the Zagreb-based Bet Israel Jewish Community of Croatia. The torah was donated, through the agency of Rabbi Len Muroff, who served as the temple’s spiritual leader with Cantor Ellen Jaffe-Gill, from 2007 to 2009.
The congregation keeps busy, from participation in rituals and volunteer activities, through cycles of classes and dinners. The Temple Ner Tamid family takes great pride in offering a warm and welcoming place of worship and community for all who visit, whether through blood drives and other neighborhood activities, organized interfaith events, joint dinners with other temples in the region or "Introduction to Judaism" and other adult classes. It’s members live in Downey, Pico Rivera, Long Beach, Cypress, Seal Beach and Rancho Cucamonga, among other Southland cities.
Temple Ner Tamid of Downey
10629 LAKEWOOD BLVD., DOWNEY, CA 90241