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The first of officially recognized Jewish congregation in Florida.
The first Jews who migrated to northwest Florida settled in Milton, 20 miles east of Pensacola, because Milton was a center for lumber production and distribution after the Civil War. These settlers came primarily from heavily wooded areas of southern Germany and Bavaria with skills that were readily transferable to Milton’s chief industry. In the early 1870s, as a result of business opportunities in Pensacola some of them moved to Pensacola.
In 1876 ten Jewish Pensacola families established a Reform congregation and built a temple. The State of Florida granted the Temple a charter under the name Beth-El in 1878 making it Florida’s first formally recognized Jewish congregation. The original wooden temple fell victim to a fire in 1895 and a new two-story brick synagogue was built on the same site. By 1929 the congregation had 125 member families and 47 children enrolled in Sabbath School. Tragedy, in the form of another fire, struck again on December 17, 1929. According to a newspaper article at that time “The next morning saw the structure almost completely destroyed. The scrolls were ruined and had to be buried. From the Temple proper, the Ten Commandment Tablet above the Ark had been saved and the memorial table. The organ had been damaged but was salvageable. ”
A new synagogue building was built at its current Palafox Street location in 1931. With a seating capacity of 350 in the sanctuary, it was designed in Art Deco style which was then popular. A nine classroom religious school building was added in 1960.
Today, many of the members are descendants of the original founding families. In addition, Beth El has the unique distinction of having many congregants who have converted from other faiths.