Meet Past President Dr. Ed Kiss
by Gabe Robinson
My name is Gabe Robinson and I am a seventeen year old member of Congregation Beth David. I had the privilege of participating in the Building Bridges Initiative set up by Bonnie Slavitt and Helaine Green. The goal of the Initiative is to connect younger members of our community with some of its early founders, past presidents and longstanding members. I chose to participate in this program because I believe that it is important to preserve the memories and history of our past to guide and mentor us in the ever approaching future.
For this project I had a conversation with Dr. Ed Kiss, an early member of our synagogue and one of its first presidents. I asked him a series of questions about his life leading up to his joining Beth David and what the synagogue was like in its early days.
Dr. Kiss was born and grew up in the Bronx. He has one sister and a large extended New York City family. Although he didn’t strictly follow the religious codes of Judaism, such as keeping kosher, he observed the High Holidays, went to Hebrew school, and became a Bar Mitzvah.
Following graduating as a mechanical engineer from CCNY in 1956, he went to work for General Electric at the Knolls Atomic Power Lab in Schenectady, New York. After obtaining a PhD from Rensselaer Poly Tech, he transferred in August of 1966 to the General Electric Commercial Nuclear Power Division in San Jose.
He and his family moved to what we currently know as Silicon Valley, but at that time was called “The Valley of Heart’s Delight.” The Kiss family joined Congregation Sinai, which was close to their new Brown and Kaufman Home in Willow Glen. At that time about 10% of the B&K homes there were owned Jewish families. Many of their neighbors were engineers who had relocated to San Jose because of the many employment opportunities to work for companies like IBM, Lockheed, GE, HP, and startup computer companies. They were members of Sinai for about four years before joining congregation Beth David in 1972, which they felt was more closely aligned with their more conservative beliefs.
At that time Beth David was small, made up of less than one hundred families, many of whom were engineers, physicians, and professionals. Beth David was located in a small house on Stelling Road in which services were held in the garage. Rabbi Jerry Danzig’s office was in the kitchen.
Dr. Kiss was a member of the CBD board several years before becoming president from 1976 through 1978. He felt his special contributions were starting the construction of the initial main sanctuary at our current location, and the establishment of the Beth David Shalom Gardens, the Jewish Burial section at the Almaden-Los Gatos Road Cemetery. His one regret was his meeting with Rabbi Danzig when he announced his desire to resign.
Aside from synagogue business, one of his best memories from his early years at the synagogue was the Beth David basketball team. They played Sunday mornings at a San Jose high school gym against teams from Temple Emanuel, NASA, and several local pickup groups. The JCC sponsored this event. Congregation Beth David team members were Ed Kiss, Abe Bromberg, Chuck Taubman, Harry Glatstein, Jussi Rajna, Dick Schriger, Dave Fankushin, Barry Siegel, and Ron Sosnick. They played about three seasons and had a winning record “thanks mainly to the outside shooting of myself, who was Congregation Beth David’s Steph Curry,” said Dr. Kiss. He offered kudos to “Abe’s playmaking as well as Jussi’s and Chuck’s rebounding.”
“Now I would like to acknowledge the most significant contribution that my wife Ellie made to Congregation Beth David,” said Dr. Kiss. Ellie volunteered to be our office secretary soon after we moved into the new facility on Prospect Road. Subsequently she was hired as the office secretary and Rabbi’s go-to person, starting with Rabbi Danzig and continuing with Rabbi Pressman through 1987. During this time she was the only one in the Beth David office handling all the day-to-day activities, including our financial accounting.
Because of Ed and Ellie’s nearly 50 year association with the many wonderful and committed people at Beth David, starting in the early years with Rabbi Danzig and later with Rabbi Pressman, they learned the importance of their commitment to Judaism and maintaining a strong congregation and Jewish community in Silicon Valley.
At the end of our discussion, he gave me invaluable advice to utilize as I stride into the future. He told me to make good friends, to always think before taking rash action, and to always stand up for what I believe in.
As previously stated, I decided to participate in this project because I believe it is important to preserve the memories and knowledge of our community’s past so that we may remember our roots and the wisdom of those that came before us. It was an incredible opportunity for me to be able to have such a good discussion with one of the first presidents of our congregation. It was fascinating to learn of the beginnings of our Beth David community that has done so much for me. It certainly was a surprise to learn of our humble start. One thing I shall keep in mind is that precious advice that Dr. Kiss lent to me at the end of our discussion, to always stand by and fight for my beliefs.
Building Bridges is an exciting new initiative at Congregation Beth David formed to connect teens and college students with longstanding Beth David members. For more information, please contact Helaine Green and Bonnie Slavitt, Building Bridges coordinators at BuildingBridges@beth-david.org