Pioneer spirit alive at Emanu-El, Sherith Israel

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It all began in April 1849, when a group of Jewish pioneers gathered for the first Passover seder in San Francisco.

Out of those humble beginnings grew two of the West Coast's most prominent congregations, Emanu-El and Sherith Israel, today with nearly 3,000 households between them.

Now it's time to revel in their history as both congregations mark their 150th anniversaries. Magnificent celebrations have already begun and will continue well into 2000.

Emanu-El and Sherith Israel deserve praise not only for lasting 150 years but for what they have meant — and continue to mean — to the Bay Area Jewish community.

Most congregations can only dream of the continuity, prestige, membership numbers and a leadership role that Emanu-El and Sherith Israel enjoy.

Together, in the temple that is Bay Area Reform Judaism, they are the twin pillars.

The Bay Area should be thankful to have two such strong institutions bearing the torch for Judaism.

Ironically, Emanu-El and Sherith Israel started out as one. But a group of mostly German immigrants and a group of mainly Polish immigrants couldn't agree on certain rituals, so the differences led to the formation of two congregations.

One student of that era said the two sides were divided by differences "you and I would never even be able to pick up on."

The same thing could be said today. Even though the two synagogues sometimes act like rivals, Sherith Israel and Emanu-El are more similar than they are different, especially when basking in the light of their long and glowing histories.

Let's celebrate 150 years at both institutions by wishing both Emanu-El and Sherith Israel the happiest of birthdays.