Today, there are more than a dozen congregations – three of them Reform – in the Scottsdale/Paradise Valley area, but 50 years ago, Jewish families in the area seeking a Reform synagogue drove their children to downtown Phoenix to attend classes at Temple Beth Israel.
On April 16, 1966, 12 people gathered in the living room of Maxine and Jonathan Marshall to discuss establishing a Reform synagogue in the area.
They wanted to create a small, participatory synagogue where members could write their own Shabbat service, the late Jonathan Marshall, former publisher of the Scottsdale Daily Progress, told Jewish News in 2005 for an article celebrating the Reform congregation’s 40th anniversary.
Weeks after that first meeting, the congregation held its first Shabbat service at Phoenix Country Day School. Temple Beth Israel offered the fledging congregation their children’s ark and 25 prayer books; the Central Conference of American Rabbis provided additional books.
Services were led by Rabbi Fred Krinsky, the head of the political science department at the University of Southern California, who also officiated at High Holiday services, along with Seymour Raboy, a founding member and cantorial soloist.
Solel, which means pathfinder, was chosen as the name, and annual dues were $170 per family and $20 for the religious school. The congregation’s first membership meeting was held on July 7, 1966, and 27 out of the 35 members attended.
For the first year, every other week was a creative Shabbat service written by members, with a theme such as peace, poetry or folk music. Other weeks, the service was more traditional.
By August, there were 51 members and that fall, Solel held Rosh Hashanah services at the Kerr Studio and Yom Kippur at Phoenix Country Day School. Solel was admitted into the Union of American Hebrew Congregations in 1967.
Rabbi Jerrold Goldstein became the congregation’s first full-time spiritual leader in 1967 and, in May 1968, the congregation rented space at Camelback United Presbyterian Church, now known as Palo Cristi Presbyterian Church. In 1970, Goldstein left and was replaced by Rabbi Fred Grosse, who eventually left to form Beth Ami Temple.
In 1977, Rabbi Maynard Bell became the congregation’s spiritual leader, a role he held for 25 years. In 1978, the congregation purchased a building from Scotts-dale Bible Church and moved to its current location at 6805 E. McDonald Drive in Paradise Valley. By the following year, the synagogue had 200 members.
Slowly and gradually, the congregation transformed from its roots as a “synagogue for alternative people” to a more traditional one, Bell told Jewish News in 2005. “It wasn’t an easy job building Solel, but it was a rewarding one,” he says. “It went through many, many evolutions, not just one.”
During Bell’s tenure, he, along with Rabbi Bonnie Sharfman and Rabbi Serge Lippe, expanded the temple’s preschool into an elementary Jewish day school. The Solel School eventually grew into what is now Pardes Jewish Day School, a K-8 day school housed at the Ina Levine Jewish Community Campus in Scottsdale that has more than 300 students.
In the early 1980s, the facility went through a major renovation as membership grew.
Rabbi Alan Berlin joined the staff in 1997 as Bell’s assistant and became rabbi after Bell’s retirement in 2002. Berlin’s wife, Julie, was the synagogue’s first ordained cantor.
The Berlins left in 2007 and Rabbi Earl Starr served as interim rabbi and Todd Herzog was hired as cantorial soloist. John Linder was appointed senior rabbi in July 2008 after a national search. He was joined by Rabbi Ilana Mills in 2012; she recently announced that she and her family will be returning to California.
Today, Temple Solel has a membership of about 650 members, according to Adina Zarchan, Solel director of programming.
Says Linder, “I see the next 50 years of Temple Solel, standing on the shoulders of these who have gone before us, taking the sacred words of Torah, articulating a vision of compassion, justice and peace, and living them in the real world.”
Adds Solel President Randall Udelman, “I am in awe that Temple Solel has for the past 50 years been able to serve as a spiritual home for families across the Valley. Our board looks forward to serving the needs of our congregation for the next 50 years.
“With Rabbi Linder overseeing our spiritual growth, I envision that we will also continue to focus on education and curriculum enhancements, engagement opportunities for our members, and creating a stable endowment to help fund new strategic initiatives.”