There has been a Jewish community in Sacramento, California, since 1849. In that year, a group of Jews got together in a room over Moses Hyman’s store to celebrate the High Holy Days. (1) By 1852, they had purchased a Methodist church at 7th and M streets, which became the first congregational-owned synagogue building in California.(2).
For most of the time until 1900, B’nai Israel was the only synagogue in Sacramento. It started out as what would now be an Orthodox congregation, but became more liberal ritually and in 1879, affiliated with the Reform movement. Some Sacramento Jews were not comfortable with this, and in 1900, a second congregation, Mosaic Law, was formed.
Originally, Mosaic Law was Orthodox, but like B’nai Israel, it drifted towards liberalism, and before 1973 it was affiliated with the Conservative movement. In addition to these two, there was a smallish, unaffiliated congregation in the neighboring town of Davis, the Jewish Fellowship of Davis.
The leadership of the two Sacramento congregations was initially made up of entrepreneurs. Sacramento was an intermediate area where goods landed in San Francisco were loaded from river ships to wagons, to be sent by wagon to the gold fields. Jewish merchants participated in all three areas.
The leadership of both Sacramento congregations was still mostly in the hands of business people: retailers, manufacturers, wholesalers, and some professionals such as physicians, other medical professionals, attorneys, accountants. Many of these leaders were children or grandchildren of earlier Jewish leaders. However, by 1973, the composition of the membership was beginning to change. During recently, Aerojet General, a manufacturer of rocket fuel, had come into Sacramento, bringing with them a number of Jewish engineers and scientists. Sacramento had been the state capitol of California since 1853, and over time had also attracted Federal jobs, mostly in the Department of Defense. There were two large Air Force bases in Sacramento’s suburbs, and an Army supply depot. There was a commissary and an Air Force hospital in the area, and Sacramento had a reputation in the Air Force for being a good place to retire to. In the late 1940’s, California State College Sacramento, was established and it attracted a number of Jewish professors. Particularly in Congregation B’nai Israel, the older, larger, and richer of the two Sacramento synagogues, there was an increasing gap between the leadership and other congregants.