Temple Beth-El was founded by immigrants from Central Europe–mostly Bavaria, Westphalia, and other German states. However, Pensacola was not their first stop in America; most of the original group were involved in the lumber camps near Milton, Florida. Milton was a national center of lumber operations after the Civil War. Early in the 1870’s, the business opportunities in a reborn Pensacola beckoned them some 20 miles. The temple was founded in 1876 as a Reform Temple with a congregation of businessmen and tavern owners. Several of thr original families still have descendants in the congregation today.
We are currently in our third building, a beautiful Art Deco structure built in the early 1930’s. An additional education building was constructed in the 1950’s, and there have been several renovations to keep the facility in good shape.
Over the years, the congregation has grown and developed as a result of the various migrations to America and to Pensacola, and the changes in the Reform Movement. Today, the congregation has a mix of all ages, and a significant number of Jews-by-choice.
The historic Temple Beth El is located off Cervantes St. in Pensacola’s Brownsville neighborhood. The cemetery dates from the 1870s, coinciding with one of Pensacola’s many yellow fever epidemics, which occurred in 1874 and claimed the lives of 354 residents. Samuel Goldbach established the cemetery and buried his son, Moses, there in 1874, the first known gravesite in the cemetery. Tragically, by 1898, four other Goldbach children had been laid to rest in the northeast corner of the cemetery, the first portion of the plot to be utilized. Near the Cervantes Street gate (no longer in use), stands a monument, dedicated by Sidney P. Levy, reading, “A memorial to Sam Goldbach who in his generosity, presented to congregation Beth El this beautiful spot, dedicated to the memory of those whose life’s journey has ended and whose blessed names we revere.” At some point, control of the cemetery passed to B’Nai Brith, and then to Temple Beth El.
The cemetery contains numerous 19th century graves, some with beautiful and quite ornate stones and monuments. These graves record the birthplace of many of Pensacola’s Jewish population at that time, Westphalia and Bavaria, now parts of Germany.
A number of notable Pensacolians lie in rest at the Beth El Cemetery. These include Adolph Greenhut, Max L. Bear, and B.I. Greenhut, former mayors of Pensacola, Sol Cahn, former mayor pro tem of Pensacola, Dr. C.J. Heinberg, first mayor of Gulf Breeze, Lewis Bear, founder of the Lewis Bear Company, and prominent philanthropists Jack Kugelman and Robert H. Kahn, Jr.
For additional cemetery information, please contact Temple Beth El