It all began with a dream. On March 12, 1939 eighteen families met at the Knights of Pythias Hall in Waukesha to establish a synagogue. Rabbi Joseph L. Baron of Temple Emanu-El in Milwaukee guided the families, who were mostly from Waukesha and Oconomowoc. The new congregation took the name Emanu-El, which means “God is with us”.
Monthly services were held, led by a number of visiting rabbis. In addition to Rabbi Baron, these included Rabbi Manfred Swarsensky of Temple Beth El in Madison and Rabbi Jay Brickman of Temple Sinai in Milwaukee. Other area rabbis, as well as students and faculty of Hebrew Union College – Jewish Institute of Religion, in Cincinnati, served the congregation’s needs through the years. The congregation started a religious school with 27 students from throughout the county. In 1940 Abraham Cohn, Loraine Teplinsky and Florence Golper were the congregation’s first confirmands. That same year a sisterhood was organized.
The first president of the congregation, H.B. Parks wrote that he felt the congregation needed a place of its own. In 1941 the congregation moved into its own building, a converted home at 700 Arcadian Ave., which was dedicated on February 22, 1942.
By the 1950s the membership of Congregation Emanu-El had grown to the point where a new building was needed. There were 40 students in the religious school by that time. On November 12, 1961 ground was broken for the new synagogue on Moreland Boulevard, with Rabbi Swarsensky officiating. By June of 1962 the two story building was completed and fully functional. The first Bar Mitzvah in the new facility was Robert Merkow and the first confirmand was Arthur Orum.
In the early 1980’s Rabbi Avi Waxman served the congregation. After his untimely death in 1985, Rabbi Michael Morgan who was on the faculty of the Milwaukee Jewish Day School was engaged as Spiritual Leader. He was followed by Rabbi Steven Adams.
By the end of the 1990s it was once again apparent that the synagogue needed to expand to meet the needs of the membership, which now numbered over 70 families. While the upper level remained largely unchanged, by fall of 2000 religious school space had been increased and a new kitchen was in place on the lower level.
In late 2004 the congregation began the process of finishing the upper level of the building. Thanks to generous contributions from the Merkow families and the Kraines family, a challenge was placed before the congregation to raise enough money to proceed. In late January 2006 the renovation started and by May 2006 the reconstruction of the upper level was completed. Another dream had become reality.
We are pleased and excited that Cantor Deborah Martin was engaged as our spiritual leader in July of 2015 and continues in both capacities of Spiritual Leader and Cantor. Previously, Rabbi Steven Adams served us for 16 years and Arlene Spanier served 23 years as our cantorial soloist. Phil Musickant was principal of the religious school from 2001 to 2018. We revamped our education program in 2018, and Carrie Barbakoff was hired as Education Director.
We hope that Congregation Emanu-El continues to grow as a place to foster a stronger sense of Jewish community and a dedication to our obligations to serve God and our fellow human beings.