Our History

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From Fellowship to Leadership

University Synagogue was founded in 1987 by sixteen men and women who were studying Reconstructionist Judaism and the philosophy of its founder, Rabbi Mordecai Kaplan. They formed a havurah (small fellowship) and invited Rabbi Arnold Rachlis, then serving a Reconstructionist synagogue in the Chicago suburb of Evanston, to speak.

Hinda Beral, a member of the Havurah and the Director of the Orange County chapter of the American Jewish Committee, first met Rabbi Rachlis in 1986 at a reception for Russian refusenik Natan Sharansky in the Rotunda of the Capitol in Washington, D.C. At the time, Rabbi Rachlis was spending a Sabbatical year in Washington as a White House Fellow, a most prestigious bipartisan program in government, which only selects a dozen applicants each year out of thousands who apply.

Shortly after Rabbi Rachlis’ first visit to Orange County, the havurah decided to hold High Holiday services and over a hundred people attended. Throughout the next few years, a great deal of interest resulted from Rabbi Rachlis’ visits with over 200 people attending each service. The havurah, renamed University Synagogue, pursued the idea of forming a permanent congregation.

A major part of our growth has been our strong appeal to unaffiliated and interfaith households – people who have often felt disenfranchised from Jewish life. We were one of the synagogues in Orange County to welcome mixed faith families and Rabbi rachlis performs interfaith marriages with joy. Our congregation finds profound meaning in connecting Jewish tradition with the ins and outs of life in the modern world.

Ultimately, University Synagogue has become one of the fastest growing synagogues in Southern California, increasing from a few dozen members in 1991 to over 600 households today. We moved into our current facility, a contemporary and inspiring structure in 2004. We continue to grow, learn, celebrate and enjoy our community and evolving Judaism together.

Big dreams and hard work have brought University Synagogue quite far; both will ensure our future, as well. Most of all, we know that the best is yet to be.