Our Spiritual Home

Temple Emanu-El offers a wide range of worship and learning experiences and a warm environment.  We support each other in joy, in healing, and in religious observance. We hope you will become an active part of our congregational family.

Our mission: Temple Emanu-El is a welcoming Reform Jewish congregation, engaging members in prayer, study, fellowship, and acts of loving kindness for our congregational family and the community at-large.

Our History

Temple Emanu-El Birmingham

Temple Emanu-El was founded in 1882 by early Jewish settlers who came to the small town of Birmingham. By 1886, the Temple’s membership had grown to 86 families, and the congregation laid the cornerstone for the first synagogue to be built in Jefferson County. This house of worship, located on the southeast corner of 5th Avenue North and 17th Street, served the congregation for the next 24 years. These early settlers assumed leadership roles in all aspects of civic affairs beginning a tradition of community involvement that continues among our Temple membership today.

Our Temple has been blessed by having three longstanding rabbis serve this congregation.

Rabbi Morris Newfield

In 1895, Rabbi Morris Newfield, a young Hungarian immigrant, was elected to lead the congregation which he continued to do for over 45 years. Under his leadership, the congregation grew to 300 families and a “new” sanctuary was built in 1912 at 2100 Highland Avenue South.  We still worship in our majestic and beautiful sanctuary.

Rabbi Milton Grafman

Arriving the day after the attack on Pearl Harbor, Rabbi Milton Grafman took the reins of Temple Emanu-El.  He led our congregation for the next 34 years through World War II, the establishment of Israel and the struggle for civil rights in Birmingham. Temple Emanu-El has played a vital role in the history and life of Birmingham’s Jewish and secular community.

Rabbi Miller

Rabbi Jonathan Miller

Rabbi Jonathan Miller joined Temple Emanu-El in January 1991 and continued to serve as our rabbi for 27 years until his retirement in June 2017.  Rabbi Miller represented the congregation with commitment, intelligence, and a passion that made the Birmingham Jewish community proud.

Temple Emanu-El Today

Today, our congregation’s spiritual leaders are Rabbi Adam Wright and Cantor Robby Wittner. As a congregation, we are continuing to embrace our philosophy of community and innovation in our programming and service to the Temple family and community-at-large.

In prior years, with extraordinary leadership and participation from both the congregation and our past clergy, Temple Emanu-El completed several multi-million dollar campaigns for renovation of its spiritual home on Highland Avenue and to further build our Endowment Fund.

Our Future


The Grafman Endowment fund, since its creation in 1979, has sought to “perpetuate Judaism through a strong and vibrant Temple Emanu-El.” Our congregation is most fortunate to have such an endowment, one that has grown large enough to provide generous grants each year. The Fund provides substantial income for our budget to help ensure that our sanctuary, chapel, and overall temple facilities remain in good repair. It provides for special programs, bestows generous scholarships for summer camps and study in Israel, and enhances the depth of religious educational experience for our youth. Click here to learn about our Grafman Endowment Fund.