Elliot Burstein served as a rabbi for San Francisco's Congregation Beth Israel for forty-two years (1927-1969). Before that, he served as a rabbi for congregations Montefiore in Salt Lake City (1923-1926) and Ahavai Sholom, in Portland, Ore. (1926-1927). With the assistance of Rabbi Saul E. White, he founded the Northern California Division of the American Jewish Congress. Burstein also served as the President of the San Francisco District of the Zionist Organization of America; on the Northern California Board of Rabbis; as a chaplain for the San Francisco Police Department; and on the boards of the San Francisco Council on Alcoholism, Mental Health Association and the American Red Cross. In 1960, he was awarded an honorary Doctorate of Divinity degree from the University of Judaism in Los Angeles.
The collection consists mainly of Elliot Burstein's handwritten sermons and lectures from the 1920s through the 1960s. The sermons are arranged mostly in chronological order (by decade), but there is a small set of subject files as well. The subject files include such topics as labor, Jewish music, war and peace, the letters of Benammi, Passover and Moses, Abraham Lincoln, George Washington, patriotism, brotherhood, High Holy Days, Sukkot, and motherhood. Also included in the collection are clippings and articles; testimonials and dedication speeches, including one for Beth Israel's Salem Garden Mausoleum; examples of Burstein's poetry; and installation speeches for Bay Area rabbis. This material indicates that Burstein was a Zionist before it was fashionable to be one in San Francisco and an advocate for including women in some segments of Conservative Jewish ritual (e.g. saying the kaddish). The collection also contains a 1931 reprint of "Moses," an address that was delivered in June 1878 by political economist Henry George (author of the 1879 book Progress and Poverty) to open a course of lectures given at the San Francisco Young Men's Hebrew Association and that was subsequently delivered from many European pulpits.