In The Beginning
In 1976 a small announcement was placed in the Gilroy Dispatch newspaper by Ellen Fuchs (co-owner of the paper at the time) asking local Jewish members of the community to attend a meeting at her home. A dozen people showed up, most of whom were strangers to one another. We got to know each other and discussed issues related to being isolated from the greater Jewish community in this rural area. We decided to meet again 1) to explore the possibility of securing a student Rabbi to conduct High Holy Day services the following year and 2) to reach out to other Jews residing in our geographic area.
Establishing an Identity
In subsequent meetings a plan evolved to establish a non-profit organization, the South Santa Clara County Jewish Community. Over a period of several months the group became incorporated in the State of California, collected donations from its members, and had its first local HHD service, attended by some 30 individuals. We found that our members’ backgrounds ranged from Orthodox to secular Judaism, and in 1983 we became affiliated with the Conservative movement and changed our name to Congregation Emeth. As we had no physical gathering place for our group, we generally met in members’ homes and continued to have periodic meetings and educational programs. Eventually we were able to secure the services of a Reform Rabbi to conduct occasional Shabbat services and to guide us as we established additional activities and educational programs.
As Congregation Emeth slowly grew, we began meeting in a number of different churches and schools. In approximately 1980 we had enough preschool aged children to establish a parent participation Jewish preschool. The preschool met in downtown Gilroy, at what was then the Presbyterian Church. We began having more regular Shabbat services, and the parents of those preschoolers became the core of Emeth. In 1997 we changed our affiliation to the URJ, which was more aligned with the views of the majority of our members. During this time we benefited from the services of part-time Rabbi Jerry Levy, who was hired on a contractual basis. Rabbi Levy served us for over fifteen years. As our children grew, we expanded our programming to include religious and Hebrew school classes.
Rabbi Levy was followed by Student Rabbi Yitzchak Miller, who, after his ordination, was hired by Emeth as our first on-staff rabbi. Rabbi Miller was our spiritual leader for three years, during which time we continued to meet at various churches and schools in Gilroy and Morgan Hill, went through various growing pains, pondered our long- term growth potential, and considered the purchase of a building.
A Synagogue in South Santa Clara County
We continued to be “wandering Jews” until 2008, when we were able to purchase our current building. Though our numbers remain relatively small, through the use of creative financing and member investment we have established the only permanent Jewish presence in South Santa Clara County.
In 2006 Congregation Emeth hired Debbie Israel, a part- time student Rabbi from the Academy for Jewish Religion (AJR-CA), an inter-denominational Jewish rabbinic and cantorial college in Southern California. When Rabbi Israel was ordained, the Board of Directors of Congregation Emeth hired her on a permanent basis and Rabbi Israel continues to be our spiritual leader today.
Congregation Emeth Today
Today Congregation Emeth has over 90 member households. We continue our tradition of welcoming our diverse population, while remaining dedicated to nurturing the spiritual, intellectual, and social needs of all seeking a meaningful Jewish connection in Gilroy, Morgan Hill, South San Jose and surrounding communities.
In 2016, we celebrated our 40th anniversary with a multi-generational service and a gala dinner and dance. Read founding member Patty Baggese’s reflections on our first 40 years. Special guest speaker was Ellen Fuchs, the founder of Congregation Emeth. Listen to Ellen’s remarks.
|1976||First meeting of Jews in South County|
|1977||Incorporated as 501(c) religious organization|
|1980||First school programs commenced|
|1983||Affiliated with Conservative movement|
|1984||Hired first part-time Rabbi, Jerry Levy|
|1995||Purchased first Torah|
|1996||Established Jewish cemetery in South County|
|1997||Affiliated with Reform movement|
|2000||Rabbi Yitzchak Miller became Emeth’s Rabbi|
|2006||Debbie Israel hired as student Rabbi|
|2007||Second Torah purchased (Holocaust survivor)|
|2008||Purchased our first building|
|2009||Rabbi Israel became full-time spiritual leader of Emeth|
|2016||40th Anniversary Celebration|
|2016||10th Anniversary with Rabbi Israel as spiritual leader|
Early content provided by founding member Michael Oshan