J. M. Keller and family at the farmhouse, standing before the Ark.

J. M. Keller and family at the farmhouse, standing before the Ark

The Jewish tradition in Ontario dates to 1905, when the Louis Matlin family started farming in South Ontario. Ontario was then a small farming community, and the next early settlers also were engaged in agriculture. Early Jewish settlers of the area included the families of Ed Diamond, David Kamansky, Isadore Maron, and Max Schlaeffer. Before 1920, they were joined by the Goldman and Siegel families, who were the first Jewish merchants in town.

Following World War I, the Jewish population began to grow. Prominent new arrivals included the families of O.L. Kelman, Nathan Selk, Morris Lichtman, Max Maryonoff, I. Langsner, Jacob Dobrofsky, Manuel Blumenfield, J.M. Kelber, Sam Selk, and Nachman Rightman. These families had traditional Jewish backgrounds and were vitally interested in providing education in both Yiddish and Hebrew for their children. In the mid-1920s, a Miss Handler, who moved here from Los Angeles, conducted classes in her home. In the early 1930s, Sabbath school classes were conducted in a converted chicken hatchery at Sixth Street and Baker Avenue, at the ranch of J.M. Kelber, with Mrs. Ruth Schorr of Upland teaching the classes.

Between 1925 and 1938, there was a great increase in the number is Jewish families. However, in 1938 there were only seven Jewish teenagers in Ontario.

Religious services in the Conservative tradition were held in the late 1920s in downtown Pomona. Families from the entire Pomona Valley gathered in an upstairs hall on Friday evenings. Sunday school classes began in the early 1930s and for several years were conducted at the Pomona Armory.

Ground breaking ceremony for the Jewish community center that was held in 1956

Ground breaking ceremony for the Jewish community center that was held in 1956

Following World War II, there was tremendous growth of the Jewish community in both Ontario and Pomona. The original Ontario-Pomona Temple changed to a Reform affiliation. Those interested in Conservative services would attend at the Monte Vista Lodge in Upland. It was there on October 9, 1955 (Shemini Atzereth services) that 14 men from Ontario, Upland, and Pomona pledged themselves to raise money for the Ontario Jewish Community Center. On February 2, 1956, the present one-acre site at 963 West Sixth Street in Ontario was purchased. The first officers included J.M. Kelber, President; Max Kelber, Vice President; Jack Korn, Treasurer; Ernest Mann, Financial Secretary; and Morris Winett, Nathan Selk, Sam Selk, Ben Lechowitz, and David Blumen, Trustees. George Roth served as temporary Secretary.

From the beginning, the most important phase of activity at the Center was Jewish education for our Children. The establishment of Sunday School and Hebrew School took precedence over the hiring of a Rabbi. Various members of the Congregation took turns conducting the Sabbath Services. With the assistance of Cantor Nathan Sweed, J.M. Kelber, Ernest Mann, Dr, Abraham Wodinsky, and Dr. David Rosenfield were those who most often led the reading of the Sabbath Services. Jack Rosenfield directed the Sunday School and taught both the weekly Hebrew classes and the oldest group of Sunday School students.

The Ontario Jewish Community Center became affiliated with the United Synagogue of America on January 7, 1957, and had its first Installation of officers at a dinner-dance held at the Upland Women’s Club on Friday 10, 1957. David Rothman represented the Council of the Pacific Southwest Region of the United Synagogue at this affair.

Picture of the farmhouse where Shabbat services and the Religious school were held

Picture of the farmhouse where Shabbat services and the Religious school were held

Officers installed at this occasion and receiving the Charter from the district organization for the Center were J.M. Kelber, President; Dr. Abraham Wodinsky, Vice President; George Roth, Secretary; Jacob Dobrowsky, Treasurer; Dr. David Dan Rosenfield, Secretary; and Harry Diamond, Max Kelber, Nathan Klus, Jack Korn, Iser Koslovsky, Louis Kamansky, Ben Lechowitz, Ernest Mann, and James Wellisch, Trustees.

The Sisterhood of the Center was organized in June, 1956, with Mrs. Martin Schorr (Bunny) as its first President. Officers elected with her were Mrs. Charles Taub, Mrs. R.L. Elliot, and Mrs. Sam Finklestein, Vice Presidents; Mrs. Joseph Kapp, Recording Secretary; Mrs. Sam Edberg, Corresponding Secretary; Mrs. Ben Lechowitz, Treasurer; Mrs. Milton Abramovitz, Financial Secretary; and Mrs. Ernest Mann, Chaplain. The Sisterhood received its charter of affiliation with the Pacific Southwest Branch of National Women’s League in January, 1957.

In 1956, 51 years after the arrival of the first Jewish settler, Ontario finally had its own Jewish Community Center. In 1957, Rabbi Samuel Rubin was engaged as the spiritual leader. In 1956, ground was broken for the temple for the local Jewish Community.