In January, 1968 a small ad in the Daily Pilot (a local newspaper) announced a meeting of persons interested in the formation of a “new, dynamic, innovative Reform Temple for the Harbor Area” which would meet the needs of the rapidly growing Jewish community. Ten families met in response to this advertisement and decided to form a congregation to meet the need they all felt for worship and study that would combine the best of traditional values with warmth and innovation. Shortly thereafter a group of twenty-seven charter families gave life to our new congregation which we called Harbor Reform Temple. Our first service was held on June 6, 1968 and, in September of that year, our religious and Hebrew schools were established.
For the first few months, services, led by student rabbis, were held semi-monthly. By the summer of 1969, Rabbi Bernard P. King, recently ordained, was hired to be our full time rabbi. Together, the congregants and Rabbi King explored our needs and evolved our own traditions; the form of our services, the relationship between rabbi and congregants, the feeling of “temple family”, the music, and our ongoing education programs. In 1970, Arie Shikler, from Israel, became our musical leader, singing & playing his guitar at services. Except for a three year leave of absence Arie has been the temple’s cantor.
Our Hebrew name, Shir Ha-Ma’alot, was adopted in 1974 after the massacre of teenagers in Ma’alot, Israel, in a spirit of remembrance and dedication. Shir Ha-Ma’alot means “Song of Ascent” the title of Psalms #120 to #134.
From the beginning we have always shared a facility with another group. First we were at St. James Episcopal Church on Via Lido, Newport Beach for four years. Then we moved to Christ Church by the Sea, United Methodist, on Balboa Boulevard, Newport Beach for five years. Initially, this policy grew out of our philosophy of “people and programs before bricks” as well as the obvious financial problems of a new congregation. By 1977, however, Shir Ha-Ma’alot felt the need for a permanent home and joined with St. Mark Presbyterian Church Newport Beach (Eastbluff Area). On February 5, 1978, we held our ground- breaking ceremony with St. Mark to build our joint sanctuary.
Our very successful joint relationship lasted until 1994 when we purchased our present home at 3652 Michelson, Irvine. The building was originally a sports athletic club but our architectural committee was able to envision it as a future temple and religious school. In September 1994, we carried our Torahs from our previous home to our new home. This parade, approximately 3 miles, was celebrated by congregants, religious and civic leaders. On October 5, 2001, we dedicated our new sanctuary with our new rabbi, Rabbi Richard Steinberg, and our cantor, Cantor Arie Shikler. This brief history has been placed in our time capsule for opening in one hundred years.