San Francisco's Congregation Sherith Israel has its roots in the Gold Rush era immigration and migration of Jews from Prussia, Bavaria, England, France and the East Coast of the United States. By the end of 1850, these new Jewish San Franciscans had founded two benevolent societies, established a cemetery, worshipped together on the High Holidays, and were considering creating a formalcongregation. They managed to come together briefly but soon split into two groups: the English and North Germans, who demanded that worship in the new congregationadhere to the Minhag Polen (the Polish rite), and the primarily Bavarian Jewish immigrants, who wished to worship according to the Minhag Ashkenaz (the traditional German rite). In 1851, the first group formed Congregation Sherith Israel and the second formed the other of San Francisco's leading congregations, Emanu-El. SherithIsrael built is first synagogue on Stockton Street, between Broadway and Vallejo, in 1854. In 1870, having outgrown its first building, the congregation moved into an impressive Gothic style synagogue on Post and Taylor Streets. It was here, in its home on Post and Taylor Streets, that Sherith Israel began to take steps away from its Orthodox roots and toward Reform. This movement towards Reform was helped along by two of Sherith Israel's most prominent rabbis, Henry Vidaver and Jacob Nieto. In 1902, the congregation purchased the site of its current synagogue at California and Webster Streets. Albert Pissis, a prominent San Francisco architect, was immediately hired to design the new building. In 1905, the synagogue, with its noteworthy stained glass windows, elaborate frescoes, and Murray Harris organ, was consecrated. The 1906 San Francisco earthquake and fire spared Sherith Israel's new building, causing only minor damage. The synagogue was actually used as a courthouse after the calamity and played host to Abe Ruef's notorious corruption trial. Rabbis who served Sherith Israel during the years documented by this collection are as follows: Henry A. Henry (1857-1869), Aaron Messing (1870-1873), Henry A. Vidaver (1874-1882), Falk Vidaver (1883-1892), Jacob Nieto (1893-1930), Jacob Weinstein (1930-1932), Morris Goldstein (1932-1972), and Martin Weiner (1972-2003).
The collection consists of the records of Congregation Sherith Israel from circa 1851 through 2003. Included are administrative materials, such as bylaws, meeting minutes (dating to 1851), and reports; correspondence, including Board of Trustees correspondence dating back to the middle of the 1860s; financial records, including ledgers, journals, daybooks, cashbooks, warrant lists, and financial reports from the 1860s through the 1930s (though a few financial records date to the 1850s); a small series of building and property records; the records of Sherith Israel's cemeteries, Giboth Olam (located in what is now Mission Dolores Park from 1860 though 1889) and Hills of Eternity (located in Colma); membership records, including files on members arranged by surname and seat deeds and seat registers; records of SherithIsrael's religious school; confirmation and bar/bat mitzvah records; some materials relating to the rabbis and cantors of Sherith Israel, including some of Jacob Nieto's correspondence; the congregation's marriage records, including marriage contract books (dating back to 1859), certificate stub books, and marriage authorizations; records relating to Sherith Israel's liturgy, services, and holiday observances; records of the congregation's Sisterhood and Brotherhood; two sets of Temple Subject Files that date back to 1900 but mostly document the concerns and activities of thecongregation from the 1940s through the 1970s; issues of Sherith Israel's newsletter dating to 1927; a set of scrapbooks and scrapbook pages that document SherithIsrael's publicity as well as activities of the Sisterhood and other congregational clubs and groups; and photographs.