Larchmont Temple History
Larchmont Temple, Har Chayim (Mountain of Life) was organized in 1948 by a group of residents of Larchmont and Mamaroneck eager to establish a Reform synagogue as well as a religious school for their children.
The original Temple was located in a Victorian mansion on Willow Avenue now known as the Blum Building. Our present building was dedicated in 1954. Our current sanctuary, Social Hall, and Garden Room were dedicated in 2001 to meet the needs of an expanding membership which has grown from 50 to over 800 families, reaffirming covenant and our commitment to a vibrant Jewish future. When Larchmont Temple was founded, Larchmont was very different from what it is today. While physically little has changed—the vast majority of the homes and stores, Village hall, the library and Chatsworth School were already built—there were very few Jewish families, and those who were here were mostly new to the community.
The Jewish families that moved to Larchmont after World War II were, for the most part, unaffiliated. Some had come to Larchmont to disaffiliate — to melt into the Westchester scene. Some were European migrs with Americanized names who, escaping the trauma of the war, wanted the anonymity of a non-Jewish environment. Some just wandered in for the same reason that families move to Larchmont today: good schools, near the city.
However, as happened in suburban communities everywhere after the war, there were some who recognized the need to educate their children. The idea to start a Jewish Reform congregation and religious school in Larchmont was first introduced by our founder, Pearl Belchetz, who invited interested Jewish residents in the community to attend a meeting in her home on June 8, 1948. About 60 residents responded. After many such gatherings to discuss the feasibility of implementing these ideas, the first official membership meeting was held at the Larchmont Public Library on August 17th. A constitution was adopted, and officers and trustees were elected.
The early organizing meetings had an uneven quality. One participant said he would be interested "so long as Hebrew was not taught in the religious school," but calmer and wiser heads prevailed. Friday evening services were held at the homes of members, religious school classes in a music school, and the first High Holiday services at the American Legion Post 347.
But soon it became clear that a larger house was needed, so the large house (designed by Stanford White in 1892 and now the Blum Building) fronting on Willow Avenue was purchased to accommodate all Temple functions including Friday evening services, the religious school, and all meetings.
A New Building
In August 1951, Maury Medwick sent out an invitation for the first "new building" meeting to the "ten busiest men." The Building Fund's goal was $250,000, modest in terms of today's dollars but a daunting amount in 1951. With more than 500 people attending High Holy Day services at the Weaver Street Fire House, the campaign kicked off with pledges of $75,000. By May 1, 1952, the goal was attained.
The campaign's brochure read, "We are privileged to bring into reality this shrine which will perpetuate the ideals of Liberal Judaism in Larchmont...This new Larchmont Temple will be a two-story structure of Georgian Colonial design, planned to integrate architecturally with the surrounding community." The building's groundbreaking followed on January 4th, 1953, with actual construction starting that summer.
Meeting the Needs of a Growing Congregation?
By 1991, the building was no longer meeting the needs of the growing congregation and a new Campaign for the 21st Century began. President Diana Finkelstein invited the congregation to participate, writing, "The responsibility for maintaining a growing and secure Reform Jewish presence rests with us. We need to build; we need to renovate; we need you to support our current plans for major reconstruction."
First priorities: a chapel for smaller life-cycle events and renovations to the Blum Building, which were completed in 1992. But more needed to be done, and President Michael Reichgott called on Fred Bloch to lead a new fundraising campaign. By the fall of 1994, with enough money to begin but not complete the next phase, President Harry First called a special meeting to ask for congregational approval to begin construction of the connector building, which was dedicated at Chanukah of 1996.
Meanwhile, the temple’s leaders continued to work to raise the funds needed to complete the building’s renovation and the Building Committee, under the leadership of Ed Jacobson, recommended a new architect, Henry Stolzman, of the firm Pasanella & Stolzman & Berg Architects.
In June 2000, the congregation gathered for its last Shabbat in the sanctuary, and Larchmont Temple’s members became the wandering Jews, worshiping at Larchmont Avenue Church, the Jewish Community Center, and the auditorium of SUNY Purchase.
One year later, in June 2001 the new sanctuary, now oriented to face the East, was dedicated, a dedication made possible through the generosity of almost 600 families who gave $8.8 million, and because of the vision and dedication of the congregation’s presidents who served through a decade of fundraising and building: Diana Finkelstein, Michael Reichgott, Harry First, Ken Gordon, and Emily Grotta. Now, with over 800 member households, Larchmont Temple is that warm, welcoming community, high-spirited and out-reaching; a multi-generational congregational family connecting a vibrant early childhood program and thriving educational programs for kids from Grade K-12, to an engaged population of adult learners and seekers, aspiring together to help repair the world.
Larchmont Temple is the place to voice your greatest life questions, knowing, through living Covenant, in partnership with the Holy One, we all share the journey—connected in our search, and the care we extend.
Our Czech Torah Scrolls
In 1973, in honor of Larchmont Temple's 25th anniversary, we obtained on permanent loan what is often referred to as a "Holocaust Torah." This phrase refers to the more than 1500 Torahs that were collected and saved from devastated towns and synagogues in 1942 by the Prague Jewish community and then rescued by what became The Memorial Scrolls Trust in 1964.
Since their rescue, more than 600 Torahs have been leased to congregations in America and around the world. Their purpose is to teach the story of their survival and the historical events that surrounded it in the hopes that we can learn from history and prevent such atrocities from happening again.
Our Scroll came from a town called Moravske-Budejovice in Czechoslovakia and was given the Scroll number MST (Memorial Scrolls Trust 963. It has a white cover with red broken "stars" and was refurbished and acquired for Larchmont Temple by Rabbi H. Leonard Poller. Reconsecrated by his family, this scroll was dedicated to the memory of Leon Lewis, a Holocaust survivor, and his wife, Elaine Lewis. Due to its fragility, it's read only on Yom Kippur and Yom Hashoah.In March 2022, we received our second rescued Torah scroll. Scroll #912 is about 200 years old and is from the Pincus Synagogue in Prague, with Czech ref. no.48919. The Pincus Synagogue is the second oldest surviving synagogue in Prague. The scroll was brought to Beth Emeth Synagogue from Czechoslavkia by a member in 1985. The Torah commemorates 78,000 victims of the Shoah.