History of Jewish Community in North Lake Tahoe

The founding of a Jewish Congregation on the North Shore of Lake Tahoe was initiated in 1979 when a Jewish group conducted the first Holiday service. Among the pioneers of this group were Julie Hunt, Norma and David Mogilefsky, Suzie and Jeff Friedman, Debbie and Elia Sheiner, Coco Kiley, Herb and Elaine Kahn, Buddy and Sheila Gold, Syd and Joanne Brosten and Barbara Gilbert. It was during this period that the group was fortunate to obtain the services of Sid Mann of Reno. Mr. Mann was a dedicated Jewish leader and the son of an Orthodox Rabbi. He began making weekly trips from Reno to Lake Tahoe to instruct a group of Jewish youngsters in Judaism. Monthly services by Mr. Mann were organized in local homes on the North Shore.

The first community Seder was held in April of 1982 at the Carnelian House (now Garwoods) in Carnelian Bay. That summer marked Wayne Mogilefsky’s Bar Mitzvah. According to newspaper reports it was the first such event held at Lake Tahoe. In 1982, a very dramatic Bar Mitzvah was held on the West Shore for B.J. Topol. The Torah was flown by helicopter from Temple Emanuel in Reno to Tahoe City, then taken by horseback to the Topol home.

In May of 1982, a Board of Directors was appointed and the North Tahoe Hebrew Congregation officially came into being. Syd Brosten of Incline Village became the first president. In less than two years, the small group had grown to a solid core of fifty families in contact with hundreds of other Jews in the area. Much credit, according to Norma Mogilefsky, is given to Rabbi Steven Jacobs of University Temple in Los Angeles and Rabbi Morris Hershman, Director of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations, in San Francisco. Both contributed their time and services to the development of the North Tahoe Hebrew Congregation. At this point, we could say the rest is history, but there is much more to bring things up to date.

North Tahoe Hebrew Congregation summer programs were initiated in the summer of 1983 and were a huge success, enabling many visitors and part-time residents to meet our Jewish community at North Lake Tahoe. Rabbis who have played a major role in this program were Fred Krinsky, Morris Hershman, Earl Kaplan, Steven Chester, Ben Beliak and Sam Brodie.

The Presidents of NTHC since 1982 were Syd Brosten, Fred Vidro, Roger Kahn, Ernie Feld, Carolyn Friedman, Syd Brosten (once again), Seymor Koster, Ernie Grossman, Toni Langsfeld, Jerry Weinberg, Ed Gurowitz, Jeff Berkley, Jon Miller, Andy Barchas, Judy Friedman and currently, Bob Langsfeld. In 1985, Jeffrey Krinsky led us in Passover and High Holy Days Services at the Crystal Bay Casino. Beginning in 1987 services were held at Sierra Nevada College in Incline. The Hebrew Union College provided student Rabbis; Ron Stern in 1987-88, Oren Postrel in 1988-89, Faith Joy Smith in 1989-90, Laura Novak in 1990-91 and Stephen Kahn in 1991-92. By this point it became apparent that NTHC was ready for a resident rabbi. Rabbi Ernie Nadler, who was originally contracted to serve as part-time religious leader in August 1991, began serving full time in 1996. Since we did not have a permanent home, we continued to hold twice monthly services, High Holy Days Services, Religious School and various events at the North Tahoe Conference Center in Kings Beach. Sadly, Rabbi Nadler passed away in 2003. Oren Postrel returned as our full time Rabbi for a short time, then Rabbi Anne Persin was our spiritual leader from 2007 through 2011.

Another outstanding landmark was obtaining, in 1985, a Sefer Torah for our Congregation by Gloria Novack. This was a Holocaust Torah that had been confiscated in 1939 when the Nazis destroyed thousands of synagogues in Europe. This Torah eventually fell into the hands of Westminster Synagogue in London and, through their kindness and good graces, now found a welcome home in Lake Tahoe. Although our Sefer Torah is a spiritual blessing, it is also a fragile treasure, so fragile it cannot be regularly handled. Thus, in 1993, Bud Novack located a magnificent Sephardic Torah for the Congregation. Rabbi Irnie Nadler, flew to Los Angeles to personally validate it. Sonny Weissen tenderly carried our Sephardic Torah back to NTHC via American Airlines strapped into its very own first class seat.

The Temple Sisterhood was originally founded on July 18,1989. It was led by Tobala Speights, Janice Koster, Paula Tietz, Betty Fineman and Debra Frishman. In 1995, the Sisterhood was disbanded for lack of interest and participation. Through the tireless efforts of Hilda Cohen, however, the Sisterhood was re-established and emerged stronger than ever. The Sisterhood Presidents have been Rebecca Hale, Mimi Komito, Bea Axelrod, Linda Sonnenshein, Margaret Lewicki, and Judy Varadi.

North Tahoe Hebrew Congregation has participated in and organized several notable charitable events through the years. Since 1994, NTHC has taken the lead role in North Tahoe’s Holiday food and Clothing Giveaway, which has provided food, clothing and toys each December for needy families in the area.

The greatest accomplishment in the history of our Congregation came to fruition in September of 2002. Thanks to the dynamic leadership of Ernie Grossman and the building committee, we now have our very own temple building. Never again will we be rootless. It is like walking into our own familiar and comfortable home after wandering through the desert for many years.

We look forward to building and strengthening a strong Jewish Community. The future for us has never looked brighter.

This history continues to be updated in loving memory of those who formed NTHC including Bud and Gloria Novak and Joe Cohen.

Bob Langsfeld
September 2013