Beth Emet - The Free Synagogue

Beth Emet is a diverse, multigenerational Reform community with a dynamic approach to Judaism. Our congregation seeks to create a spiritually vibrant, socially conscious, intellectually challenging, and deeply caring environment firmly rooted in Jewish tradition and values.

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Beth Emet began on a cold night in January 1950 when founding Rabbi David S. Polish, z"l, was told that he could not lead services at his Reform congregation. A fervent Zionist, Rabbi Polish's support of the State of Israel did not please some of his congregants. With a broken contract, Rabbi Polish, his wife Aviva, and two children, joined with forty other families to establish the first Reform congregation in Evanston. Our full name, Beth Emet The Free Synagogue, refers to freedom of speech from the pulpit, a right Rabbi Polish was denied by his former synagogue.

On August 1, 1950, Beth Emet purchased an eleven room mansion on the corner of Dempster and Ridge. In keeping with the Congregation's commitment to freedom and liberty for all, several champions of progressive ideas have found a welcome dais for their programs on Beth Emet's bimah, including Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in 1958.Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in 1958.

Education was and is a primary focus at Beth Emet. Shortly after the first weeks, Hebrew classes were organized, and a nursery school and adult education program were established within the first year.

When Rabbi Polish announced in 1979 that he would retire the following year, a search and screen committee was formed to select his successor. In June 1980, Rabbi Emeritus Peter S. Knobel became our second Senior Rabbi. Rabbi Knobel made significant contributions to the Beth Emet community and the Reform Judaism community-at-large. Among his many accomplishments, Rabbi Knobel chaired the editorial committee for the movement's current prayerbook, Mishkan T'filah, and is also a former president of the Central Conference of American Rabbis (CCAR).

In July 1993, Rabbi Eleanor Smith joined Beth Emet as Assistant and then Associate Rabbi. Upon her resignation in 2000, Rabbi Andrea London joined the congregation, and in 2010, upon the retirement of Rabbi Knobel, became Beth Emet's third Senior Rabbi. Rabbi London is deeply engaged in all aspects of congregational life, including worship, lifecycle events, counseling and support, adult education, youth education and programming, social action, and interfaith relations.  Rabbi Amy L. Memis-Foler became Beth Emet's fourth Rabbi when Skokie's Temple Judaea Mizpah merged with Beth Emet in the fall of 2018.

In 1982, Beth Emet's first full-time Cantor, Jeffrey Klepper, joined the congregation. Cantor Klepper played a large role in forming the Beth Emet choir, and his enthusiasm and energy did much to enhance our worship experience. When he announced his departure in 2001, Cantor Gershon Silins was selected to succeed him and served until 2003. From 2004-2009, Cantor Erin Frankel was Beth Emet's third invested cantor. Cantor Arik Luck joined our team of clergy in 2009 and brought many innovative and traditional musical arrangements to the pulpit during his time at Beth Emet. In the summer of 2015, Cantor Susan Lewis Friedman was welcomed as Beth Emet's fifth Cantor incorporating her vitality and classical training to complement Beth Emet's worship services. In July 2019, Cantor Rabbi Kyle Cotler began his tenure at Beth Emet bringing with him a musical legacy of his own - a fourth-generation cantor, and a first-generation Rabbi. 

In 2002, Beth Emet's weekly soup kitchen opened its doors for the first time and still feeds approximately 100 diners a nutritious meal every Wednesday evening. Led by congregants and powered solely by volunteers from both within and outside of the Beth Emet community, our soup kitchen is indicative of Beth Emet's continued commitment to social action and tzedakah.

Beth Emet officially welcomed the member families of Temple Menorah in 2017 after their Rogers Park synagogue had ceased operations. Similarily, Temple Judea Mizpah (TJM), a warm and welcoming Reform Jewish community in Skokie, was exploring options for a new home after nearly 60 years. Former Temple Menorah and TJM congregants have both been terrific additions to our community, serving on the Board and in other leadership roles, contributing to the Mitzvah Appeal and other campaigns, singing in the choir, attending services, and supporting other events. We are fortunate to now have both congregations woven into the fabric of Beth Emet’s diverse and multi-generational membership.

Today, Beth Emet continues the ideology of its founders. We are a liberal, Reform Jewish congregation; we promote freedom of the pulpit for our clergy, and our membership is encouraged to express its varied intellectual and political views. We are actively engaged in study and worship. We work closely to build bridges within our own community, with other faith based communities, and with social service organizations to bring about opportunities for open dialogues and work towards creating a better community, both locally and around the globe. Our building is filled to the brim with not only spiritual and emotional memories, but also physical artifacts of Beth Emet’s commitment to Judaism, Israel and our community. 

We are proud of our past, and we greet the future eagerly, filled with energy, zeal and commitment.

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Beth Emet is a diverse, multigenerational Reform community with a dynamic approach to Judaism. Our congregation seeks to create a spiritually vibrant, socially conscious, intellectually challenging, and deeply caring environment firmly rooted in Jewish tradition and values.

  • Lunch, Learn, Love
    A Social Action Committee Program for Kids (kindergarten to grade five)

    Sunday, January 19 | 12:00 p.m. – 2:30 p.m.

    In honor of Martin Luther King, Jr. Weekend, this year's Beth Emet's annual family service even...

  • Monday, January 20 | 11:00 a.m. - 1:30 p.m. at First United Methodist Church (516 Church Street, Evanston)

    On Martin Luther King’s National Day of Service, Walk for Warmth will raise funds for operating the Emergen...

  • PJ Party!

    Saturday, February 8 at 4:30 p.m.
    Wear your PJ's for dinner, crafts, Havdalah, songs, and stories from PJ Library.
    Perfect for families with children ages 8 and under. 
    $5 per person or $20 per family by February 6...

  • Sunday, February 16 at 5:30 p.m. at the Hilton-Orrington Hotel


    Beth Emet’s Soup Kitchen is a well-oiled machine, weekly feeding 70 to 120 of the area’s working poor and homeless. The Soup Kitchen, under the leaders...

  • Beth Emet Community Retreat

    February 28-March 1, 2020
    After a five-year hiatus, Beth Emet’s Community Retreat is back and better than ever! Spend a relaxing weekend with friends and family in beautiful Oconomowoc, Wisconsin, celebrating Shabb...

  •  Thinking about keeping your slate clean after Yom Kippur? Want a Jewish way to deepen your focus on your speech, behavior, and ideas? Looking to connect to people in meaningful ways? You may be looking for tikkun m...

  • Wednesday, February 16 at 1:00 p.m.
    Join the discussion at our monthly book club! The next book is Book of the Unknown Americans” by Christina Henriquez. Books are available for pick up at Beth Emet. No need to RSVP...

  • A Close Look at Torah

    with Rabbi Andrea London
    Fridays, February 14-June 12 | 9:30 a.m. - 10:35 a.m. (No class March 6, April 10, and May 15)
    There are many ways to interpret Torah and the nuances of meaning that are often overlooked. We will cont...

  • Thursdays, January 16, February 27, March 19, April 23 | 7:00 – 8:30 p.m.

    Participants study as a small group of adults studies to become b’nei mitzvah together at Beth Emet. Requirements for Adult B’nei Mitzvah at Beth Emet...

  • with Yvette Alt Miller
    Thursday, January 30 | 7:00 – 9:00 p.m.
    Whether you’re an expert baker or a challah newbie, this evening is for you! Learn how to make and braid challah and explore the meaning and mysticism behind this i...

  • with David Gottlieb
    Fridays, February 14 and 21 | 10:45 a.m. – 12:15 p.m.
    Sigmund Freud and Theodor Herzl lived on the same block in Vienna for two years in the early 1900s. Yet these men, so deeply influenced by
    European cultur...

  • Movie and discussion, led by Bekki Kaplan and Shlomit Hoch
    Saturday, February 1 | 6:30 p.m. – 9:00 p.m.
    Rebecca Abarnabel, a single daughter born into an Orthodox Jewish family, is tired of the lifestyle that her father, Reuven...

  • Jewish Vaudeville

    with Alan Teller
    Sunday, February 23, 9:30 – 11:00 a.m.
    Distinct from Yiddish theater, Jewish vaudeville had its own flavor. Alan Teller grew up with a larger-than-life grandfather in the business — a guy who pulled quarters ...

  • with Claire Suffrin
    Fridays, February 28 and March 6 | 10:45 a.m. – 12:15 p.m.
    This course will explore different aspects of the relationship between religion and literature in contemporary novels and poetry. We’ll consider exa...

  • with Rabbi Allan Kensky
    Fridays, January 24 and 31 | 9:45 – 11:15 a.m.
    This small book of the Bible, written in the aftermath of the destruction of Jerusalem in 586 BCE, expresses the anguish of the people at the calamity that ...

  • with Yvette Alt Miller
    Thursday, January 23 | 7:00 – 9:00 p.m.
    Shabbat dinner includes some beautiful but puzzling rituals. Why do we make a blessing over wine? Why hide the challah under a cloth? This multi-sensory workshop ex...

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