Beth Am Temple was founded in April 1963 with the encouragement of Rabbi Louis Frishman, who at that time was the current Rabbi of Temple Beth El in Spring Valley. Feeling there was a need for an additional temple in the area of Pearl River, Rabbi Frishman contacted a few couples who in turn contacted a few more. A time for a meeting was set. Rabbi Frishman brought in Rabbi Davis from the URJ, from who, along with URJ literature pertaining to the various aspects of Reform Temples, we were able to learn how to begin to form a congregation. By this time, many more families were interested in our idea. We held a meeting open to the public and were delighted by the response. We knew then that a temple was in the making.
By the beginning of that summer we had a temporary chairperson in place and volunteers to do the many jobs necessary to get our new temple up and running. We needed to find a place to worship and to house our religious school. We needed to name our congregation. Many names were suggested. Beth Am was selected because it means “House of the People” and we felt it applied very well to us.
The URJ continued to help us by setting up a dues schedule for the first year and by putting us in contact with Rabbi Milton Weinberg, who became our first Rabbi and in turn helped us get the Religious School organized. Members formed committees and volunteered their time to further secure the existence of Beth Am. The Ritual Committee worked with the Rabbi to obtain a Torah and an Ark and purchase prayer books. A committee was formed to write a Constitution which established our governing body of officers and our Board of Trustees. A Building Committee was formed to locate a suitable piece of property to purchase for the construction of our congregation’s new home. An Education Committee worked hard to set up the curriculum and hire teachers. This was a very important and time consuming job. When it was done, we had a fine school with 140 pupils. Other standing committees were established to handle the many other need of the congregation, including Budget and Finance, Fund Raising and Publicity. Everyone worked together to help our new temple become successful.
Our first service was held in September 1963, just after Labor Day. Our first President was Al Loeb, the Vice Presidents were Sanford Katz and J. Baron and the Treasurer was Dr. Herman Waldman. We had originally started with 23 families, but by November of that year, we had grown to a congregation of 76 families.
As the years passed, membership grew into the range of 120 - 185 families, hitting its peak in the late 1970's. School enrollment remained fairly constant. A major expansion to the temple was completed in 1979, featuring the construction of the sanctuary which is used till this day. All offices were moved to the addition, while the previous office space was converted to classroom use. The new structure was built to contain 250 member families, a figure that seemed more than adequate at the time.
A pattern of steady and consistent growth followed in the mid 1980's with the arrival of Rabbi Daniel Pernick. As school enrollment doubled to 200 students in the early 1990's, interior changes to the building were necessitated, such as a new dividing wall in the social hall to create classroom space and an office for the Cantor. Thru 2000, membership grew steadily at an average rate of 5% per year until the Temple hit its peak membership of 300 families and 270 Religious School students.
Our veteran and new members live throughout Rockland County, with a concentration in Orangetown, Clarkstown and Ramapo. In addition, the numbers of families from Bergen County (most of whom live within ten minutes of the Temple) has skyrocketed from 1% of Temple membership to 33% of today's 225 families.
Member satisfaction is very high and the Temple enjoys an excellent reputation in both Rockland and Bergen Counties. In 1998, the Temple entered into a long-term contract with Rabbi Pernick. Geri Zeller transformed our Cantor's position in the eighteen years she served as our Cantor and currently is honored with the position of Cantor Emerita.
In 2001, the Temple completed a building project which doubled the size of the physical plant and gave us a beautiful Banquet Hall, a new School building, new offices, library, entrance and much more. Since the year 2001, membership at Beth Am, like almost every synagogue in Rockland County, has declined, however we continue to move forward in our beautification plans for the Sanctuary, which now has beautiful Jerusalem Stone on the bimah wall and this summer (2009) we have realized a long-term dream with the installation of permanent seating in the Sanctuary.