Temple Beth El evolved through a series of mergers in the 20th century. It retains the corporate name, Bradford Hebrew Congregation, which is that of its oldest component, an Orthodox synagogue organized in 1879. With each merger and reorgainzation, new names were created. Temple Beth El is the name of the synagogue formed in 1958 through the merger of Congregation Beth Israel (Conservative) and Temple Beth Zion (Reform). Temple Beth El operates and maintains the Beth Israel Cemetery. The Beth Israel Cemetery may contain the graves of the Beth Jacob Cemetery formerly in Kane. When the Beth Jacob Synagogue closed, the cemetery was purchased by a lumber mill. Historians are in disagreement as to whether there were any graves in that cemetery and, if so, to where they were moved. Most agree that if there were graves, then they were moved to the Beth Israel cemetery. To accommodate the merged congregation, Temple Beth El built a large new building; it was dedicated in 1961. In the 1960s membership exceeded 200 member units (families). It declined in the 1980s. By 2000 plans for becoming a lay-led synagogue in smaller quarters were underway. In 2006 Temple Beth El moved to and dedicated its current new home on Clarence Street. This building was an abandoned church on two acres of land fronting in a forest on South Avenue. Its interior was reconfigured to make it into a synagogue and blessed by Rabbi Mills. It had been built with the labor of the members of a Christian sect, the New Apostolic Church, on what had long been regarded as a commons. Neighbors recall how they provided the new apostles with water and electricity gratis to help with the construction. Before the new construction, the current parking lot had been a baseball diamond. There are a woods, two fields, one once having a tennis court and a hill for sledding. The church operated roughly from 1990 to the end of that decade. Because of its previous history as a vacant-lot commons, some neighbors, who played there as children, feel they have a claim on the property for their personal use. Such use has been tolerated by Temple Beth El when it does not create a hazard or conflict with holding services and performing maintenance.
The history of Judaism in Bradford began in 1879, the year Bradford became a city, when Rabbi Samuel Winestock organized what became known as First Bradford Hebrew (Orthodox) Congregation. Bradford Hebrew Congregation was eventually located (prior to re-addressing) at 211 Mechanic St. between Potter and Kane. Another synagogue, B’Nai Israel synagogue was located (prior to re-addressing) at 26 Kennedy Street. The founding Rabbi of the B’Nai Israel synagogue was I. Lowitz. In 1883, Hebrew Congregation got a new Rabbi, Samuel Weil. In 1884 there appears to have been some sort of shuffle. Rabbi Weil was listed as leading Reform Temple Beth Zion, but it was located on Mechanic Street near or at Hebrew Congregation’s address. In the same year, Rabbi Wolf Cohen replaced Rabbi Simon Paltrovitch at the B’Nai Israel Synagogue on Kennedy Street. But, in 1885, an aerial map references Reform Temple Beth Zion at 26 Kennedy Street and the B’Nai Israel Synagogue at an unmarked location. This had been the last known reference to the B’Nai Israel Synagogue until ca. 2011 when new copies of the 1885 aerial map were reissued. These show the B’Nai Israel Synagogue on or near the corner of what is now Potter and South Avenue just north of Kane Street. (Kane St. is identified on the map but Potter is neither shown nor identified.) Apparently the B’Nai Israel Synagogue had become indistinguishable from the Bradford Hebrew Orthodox Congregation. (Temple B’Nai Israel of Olean, NY was not formed until approximately 1930.) In 1895 Hebrew Congregation is referenced on an aerial map where it appears on Mechanic Street (now South Ave.) near Kane St., the same location as above. The same map shows Reform Temple Beth Zion still on Kennedy St. In October 1909, a splinter group formed “Tefilas” actually Tefares Israel (variously listed as Conservative or Orthodox) Congregation at 21 Pearl St. This congregation founded the Tefares Israel Cemetery. The first recorded burial there was Fannie Nichols in 1913. Although the congregation soon dissolved, its cemetery has remained in continual use. A news item in the November 11, 1909 (Daily Developments pg. 5) Bradford Era records the selling of the pews of the old Temple Beth Zion to the “newly organized Hebrew congregation” at 21 Pearl Street. It was destined to last 4 years from that date. The same article that records the sale of the pews also records the ground breaking for a new Temple Beth Zion “on the Tibetts lot on South Avenue”. Earlier in 1909 Temple Beth Zion had announced plans to move to a new brick building on South Avenue from its old wooden one on Kennedy Street. The move took place around 1910. Evidently Hebrew Congregation (Orthodox) then moved into 26 Kennedy Street. In 1922 it reorganized as Congregation Beth Israel and moved into the vacated Universalist Church of Eternal Hope one block away on South Avenue (at the corner of Corydon St.) from Temple Beth Zion. Beth Israel became Conservative rather than Orthodox. Thus, through the 1958 merger, Temple Beth El reconstituted the first synagogue in Bradford, the one that was organized in 1879. In fact, Temple Beth El’s legal name is still Bradford Hebrew Congregation.
The buildings that housed the first Temple Beth El and the second Temple Beth Zion are still standing. The original Kennedy Street synagogue was demolished to accomodate expansion of the YMCA. The Beth Israel synagogue was demolished to make a parking lot for an undertaker. In 1898, the Mechanic Street address of Hebrew Congregation was simultaneously that of a large home owned by John Cantillon. That address is now a part of South Avenue. A very old but heavily-remodeled multifamily dwelling occupies the approximate site now. The Beth Jacob Synagogue is still standing at 39 Kinzua Road in Kane, PA. It is used as a warehouse.
The Beth Israel Cemetery is located on West Washington Street near Onofrio Street. The Tefares Israel Cemetery is located on the north side of Bolivar Drive west of Seward Ave. Athough it is a separate entity, the Tefares Israel Cemetery is maintained under the direction of Grant Nichols, a member of Temple Beth El.
Temple Beth El acknowledges the assistance of Molly Popiel Lindahl, Sandy Green, The Bradford Landmark Society, The Bradford Club and the McKean County Historical Society for materials that support this short history.