Our History

Welcome to the fifth oldest Reform congregation in the United States. Temple Emanuel, first known as the Benevolent and Burial Society, was founded in 1857 and occupied two rented structures until 1881, when the congregation built it’s first home on the corner of Fountain and Ransom Streets, in downtown Grand Rapids.

Organized by five German families who had fled the restrictive laws of Europe, our membership remained largely Germanic until the 1890’s, when Eastern European Jews began to move into the Grand Rapids area.

In 1952, the present Temple building was erected. It was designed by California architect Eric Mendelsohn. He visualized a different approach when designing.our synagogue. The tall clerestory windows high in the sanctuary allow natural light to flow in, and the movable walls permit us to divide the space as needed. The 1000 square foot mural is the creation of painter Lucienne Bloch Dimitroff, daughter of the American composer Ernest Bloch and protege of Diego Rivera.

In 1992, the Congregation initiated Atid, which funded a major renovation of the sanctuary and public spaces. The bima was lowered to make it more accessible to all congregants, and fixed seating was replaced with movable chairs, which enable us to create a number of different environments for worship. We also created the front lounge space to underscore our belief that the Temple should be a comfortable second home for all members. The second phase of Atid renovated and expanded the library and classrooms.

Tiffany Window