The Beginning - Post Civil War Era
B'nai Jeshurun Congregation, the Temple on the Heights is one of three remaining Conservative Congregations in Cleveland. The congregation is 150 years old and has a membership of approximately 1000 families.
In the 1850's, the first Jewish Hungarian settlers came to Cleveland. "The mighty schism (in the old country) had left father opposing son, brother against brother. The Jews who emigrated to America continued the old battles, and the chief pleasure at the holding of services was fighting and quarreling. . ." Most of these people were Orthodox and had strong national loyalties. Only a few settlers were absorbed by other Jewish groups. There were strong "ethnic and language differences between the early settler, the German Jews and the second wave migrants." These new settlers had a common pride in being "Magyar".
Immediately following the Civil War, there were 75,000 people in Cleveland with over half born in foreign countries. At that time in Cleveland, Tifereth Israel (The Temple) and Anshe Chesed (Fairmount Temple) were the only congregations. At these congregations, "more German than English was heard within their walls. Jews of Yiddish background, however, as well as some who desired the worship they had known in their youth and others who were unable or unwilling to meet the rising financial and social standards of Tifereth Israel and Anshe Chesed, opened, small places of their own." Small minyanim were formed among the various nationalities.
"Thus it was in the year 1866, when such a devotional argument was again in progress that a man by the name of Herman Sampliner could no longer countenance such disorder." In October, 1866, sixteen men met for a minyan of Hungarian Jews. These men continued to meet in two rooms at the home of Herman Sampliner on California Alley for informal worship meetings, services on Friday evenings, Saturday mornings, and minor holidays They purchased a Sefer Torah shortly after their decision to join together for worship.
The second year, the membership had increased to twenty-five. For the high holidays during the third year, the group rented Gallagher's Hall on Erie and Superior. Although they had 400 worshippers at the service, only 35 families were members. This area was the center of Jewish activities at that time. Their first religious school was formed during this time. Mr. Sampliner remained president of the congregation and a Mr. Salzer was hired as the religious teacher and Hazzan.
In 1872, Halle's Hall on Superior Avenue (today the site of BP) was rented and then purchased and the congregation moved. At that time, they also purchased a second Torah. Three years later, Rev. Mr. M. Klein was hired as a preacher, cantor and teacher. Membership of the congregation had grown to 60 families and they had to begin looking for a larger building. Rev. Klein also served as collector as there was always something to collect. Dues were 25 cents a month. The congregation purchased two acres of land for Glenville Cemetery at a cost of $1250.
In 1878, when the congregation moved to the old German theater on Michigan Avenue, the reform idea of family pews was introduced. Shortly afterward, organ music was introduced. As a result of this change from their "orthodoxy", several members resigned and formed their own house of worship. However, they returned to B'nai Jeshurun three years later.
Herman Sampliner along with Messers. Samuel Grossman, William Meisel, Abraham Heimlich and Samuel Meth, filed the necessary papers with the State of Ohio to incorporate the congregation in 1882, "for the purpose of divine worship . . and that the object of this association is 'To provide the congregation with religious instructions and the means of divine worship according to faith, belief, and practice of Israelites, as now held by them and more specifically embodied by the Old Testament and Scripture and also by rules established and adopted by Israelites."' It's name was B'ne Jeshurun-The Hungarian Congregation.
The congregation of 60 families was outgrowing the building on Michigan Avenue due to other nationalities joining and in 1884, Mr. Sampliner proposed a plan to build a new temple. The congregation purchased land on Ohio Street for $4300 leaving a balance of $45.00 in their savings account. This was a real challenge to the congregation's finances. However, Anshe Chesed was moving and the congregation had a chance to purchase their building on Eagle Street. The land on Ohio Street was sold to a congregant, E. Edelman, who built a home there. The purchase was completed in 1886 for $15,000 and the congregation moved in 1887. The congregational dues were $12.00 a year with very generous contributions during the High Holidays. The Glenville Cemetery was laid out at that time too.
In their new home, there was "mixed" seating. No organ was present but there was a boys choir and the congregation was strongly encouraged to join the cantor when he chanted the prayers. The men wore tallit instead of a kittel. "The Hungarian Congregation, B'ne Jeshurun, stood midway between these new immigrants conventicles and the august Reform temples of the German Jews, just as Hungary itself lay between Russia and Poland and the West."
The congregation consisted of many members of German background and thus the Orthodoxy of Eastern Europe which had been followed earlier in the congregation's existence, was changing. The "traditional" Hungarians and others unhappy with the changes occurring at B'nai Jeshurun left and formed Beth El. This congregation was in existence only a short time and its members' names were later found once again in the chronicles of B'nai Jeshurun.
The congregation hired a new rabbi once they moved to their new building. Sigmund Drechsler, a native of Hungary was hired as their first ordained rabbi. He had been educated in the yeshivot of Hungary and at the Orthodox ("Hildesheimer") rabbinical seminary in Berlin. He was hired at the salary of $1000.00 per year.
Problems arose at the dedication of their new building. Guest speakers from the Reform Movement advised the people to change their ways from Orthodoxy to Reform. Several of the congregants were very upset by the talk which was against the traditional practices. Rabbi Isaac Meyer Wise, one of the speakers, "expressed his life's convictions that American Judaism was synonymous with Reform, and that the quasi-Orthodox B'ne Jeshurun, once in a synagogue of its own, was morally obligated to adopt that form of Judaism. '. . .you persist in clinging to your old prejudices, your old customs, From your country you have imported customs, supposed to be religious, that have never been taught in the Torah or in any of our sacred writings.' He challenged them to produce proof from Jewish law of the requirement to be covered or to face east during worship, or to observe a second day of holidays." The congregational school was up to six classes and three teachers and boasted that they offered an excellent education to the congregants' children.
In 1897, six women of the congregation joined together for the purpose of sewing shrouds. Soon fourteen more women joined the "Chevra Kadusha". Dues for this early sisterhood group were ten cents. It's first president was a man, Mr. Holstein with Mr. Fred Stern as its secretary. The first woman president was Mrs. Emanuel Rickman. This auxiliary of the congregation adopted the name B'nai
The 20th Century
The congregation entered the new century quietly but the calm was not to last long.
Sanford Folkman, son of Joseph, one of the early founding members, recalled: "One of my earliest childhood memories was attending the Eagle Street Synagogue on Yom Kippur. When we went in, the family split up and my mother and sister went upstairs to worship behind a drawn curtain. My father took me downstairs with the men and boys. This arrangement struck me as strange but it was too holy a day to ask questions.
The religious school was in the basement of the Eagle Street building. The students sat on wooden benches during their class time. Classes as they were, were taught by Mr. Klein who spoke no English, to students who spoke no Yiddish.
In 1904, the argument of mixed seating arose. No changes were made, however, eighty-five members left B'nai Jeshurun and formed Oheb Zedek, an Orthodox Congregation.
More controversy arose when the building on Eagle Street was sold and the congregation moved to E. 55 and Scovill. Those former members who formed Oheb Zedek sued the congregation for a share of the money received from the sale of the Eagle Street building. Finally, the case was settled out of court.
At the dedication of the synagogue on E. 55 and Scovill on September 16, 1906, the beginning of the shift from Orthodox to Conservative was evident. The early Orthodox members of the congregation were dying or joining more traditional Orthodox congregations, and there were pressures placed upon B'nai Jeshurun to modernize their rituals. With the move to E. 55 and Scovill, the shift from Orthodox to Conservative Judaism was made. The main address at this dedication was given by the Mayor of Cleveland, Tom Johnson. The congregation had 140 members and a Sunday School program for 28 children.
Rabbi Abraham E. Dobrin, the first alumnus of the Jewish Theological Seminary to serve Cleveland, followed Rabbi Drechsler. Rabbi Dobrin remained at B'nai Jeshurun only two years. The congregation had grown to 454 members during this time.
Rabbi Samuel Schwartz followed Rabbi Dobrin as the next spiritual leader in 1909. He was educated in a Budapest seminary and graduated from Hebrew Union College. The members of B'nai Jeshurun hoped to "convert" Rabbi Schwartz since he had been schooled at a yeshiva. Rabbi Schwartz "found B'nai Jeshurun Orthodox with a touch of liberalism, family pews, late Friday evening services, modern Orthodox prayerbook, English sermon, Saturday morning regular Orthodox service, the chanting of the entire weekly Torah portion, etc." Some congregants had dual membership with Reform congregations.
During the time Rabbi Schwartz was spiritual leader of B'nai Jeshurun, the congregation imitated the Reform Temples of Cleveland, by having a Sunday School program and had Confirmation on Shavuot. The Hungarian membership had become acculturated and by B'nai Jeshurun conducting Sunday School classes, the children remained at B'nai Jeshurun instead of attending Sunday School at the Reform Temple. After only three years with the congregation, the rabbi left since he didn't conform to the desire of the congregation for an Orthodox rabbi.
From 1913 to 1918, the congregation grew from 500 to 725 members under the guidance of Rabbi Jacob Klein.
Post World War I
In 1919, Rabbi Klein was succeeded by Rabbi Solomon Goldman, a graduate of the Jewish Theological Seminary. Rabbi Goldman attracted many young people to the congregation. He promoted Hebrew education for the children. He tried to make B'nai Jeshurun into a Jewish Community Center. It was a frustrating, useless task and finally in 1922, Rabbi Goldman left B'nai Jeshurun to go over to Anshe Emeth (now Park Synagogue) as their Rabbi. There he continued his work and transformed Anshe Emeth from an Orthodox to a Conservative Congregation.
In 1922 when Rabbi Abraham Nowak was hired as the seventh spiritual leader, B'nai Jeshurun's ideas of Orthodox tradition were inconsistent with the Orthodox practices of that time. Rabbi Nowak was trained as an Orthodox rabbi but was able to adapt to B'nai Jeshurun's ways.
At this time, Harry Rickel was also hired as the cantor. He was to serve the congregation for the next twenty years. He also served the community as its mohel.
During Rabbi Nowak's years with B'nai Jeshurun, the membership grew to 806 members. The congregation once again began to make plans to move. They sold their building on E. 55 and Scovill to the Shiloh Baptist Church. In 1923, the site on Mayfield Road near Lee Road was purchased.
As the old families, such as the Sampliners, Lerners and Weils were dying out, new families came to the front as leaders of the growing congregation.
The Amster family, included Morris who "brought devotion, leadership and generous gifts as president" of the congregation. His son-in-law, Max J. Greenwald, also a president of the congregation, helped implement the construction of the new building. Their tradition of loyalty to the congregation continued into the second half of the century when Sidney Amster, Morris' son, donated thirty acres of land in Pepper Pike to the congregation. The land was donated in memory of Sidney's wife, Hilda.
Henry Spira came to Cleveland from Hungary. Joining B'nai Jeshurun shortly after his arrival, he worked diligently for the congregation and was instrumental in sponsoring the formation of the Men's Club in 1925. He sponsored the group "on the principles of good fellowship and the pursuit of intellectual endeavors, it also provides its members with social activities." Eventually, Henry became the congregational president in 1926 at the time of the congregation's move to the Heights.
|1925 Cornerstone read: "Founded on truth, Justice and Peace"|
On February 22, 1924, the congregation held their groundbreaking ceremonies and the cornerstone for the new building was laid on May 24, 1925. Pictured above behind the flag-draped table are President Henry Spira, Rabbi Abraham Nowak, and Past President Morris Amster. Half the money for this project which cost $1,000,000 was raised by pledges from the members.
The following September, 1925, the junior congregation was formed for the students of the religious school.
In March, 1926, B'nai Jeshurun moved to 3130 Mayfield Road in Cleveland Heights. It was then that the congregation took on an English name, "The Temple on the Heights" or "Heights Temple". This building was dedicated in August, 1926.
The congregation grew in size. In the 60th anniversary program, it was stated "the congregation is perhaps the largest conservative congregation in America." The membership had grown to 1125 and the school attendance was almost 800. "The ideal of the Temple on the Heights is to bring physical, spiritual and social blessing to its members and the Jewish Community."
The Sisterhood continued to increase in size and its role in the life of the synagogue. Through their fundraising efforts, they purchased the first organ for the congregation in 1929.
During the depression in 1933, Rabbi Nowak led a group of 25 men away from B'nai Jeshurun and formed Community Temple (Congregation Beth Am). This group of people had a vision of how a synagogue should serve its members and this vision wasn't being met at B'nai Jeshurun. They believed that the rich and powerful in their community had taken control over the synagogue and they were rebelling against this situation. Their new congregation, they pledged, would be open to all Jews regardless of their wealth or status in the community. They chose Community Temple as the name for the new congregation to emphasize their desire for a temple that was open to all.
The Community Temple was thus founded on a number of progressive and democratic principles. The first and most basic was that there should be unrestricted access to the religious school. Jewish education was to be open to all Jewish children "without financial restriction". This concept was based on the idea that "Religious education is a duty incumbent upon the community and will be given to all children." Synagogue membership was not to be required in order to attend the religious school.
All members of the new congregation were to be treated on an equal basis. Membership was to be "popularly priced" and based on ability to pay. In the Sanctuary, pews were to be unassigned. Community Temple was later to be referred to as a "free synagogue" and a "classless congregation". According to organizer Ben Goldman, "A democratic spirit will dominate the congregation" along with a "feeling of good fellowship".
Rabbi Nowak referred to this concept as a "new deal in the advancement of Jewish values".
The new temple established administrative offices downtown at 241 Euclid Avenue. The Sunday School officially opened with an organizational session on October 15, 1933 at Coventry School. Mrs. Dorothy Feldman, who was to remain a key figure in temple activities for many years to come, was appointed school superintendent and by the beginning of 1934, Sunday School enrollment stood at 180.
The Sisterhood, then known as the Community Temple Women, was quickly formed and planned the Temple's first social event, the 1933 Chanukah party, which was held at the Green Gables at Euclid and East 111th Street.
The members of the confirmation class established the first temple newsletter, the Community Temple Broadcaster, with the first issue being published in January of 1934. The managing editor was Margaret Schaefer, who later as Margaret Bohnen, in 1987 became the first woman president of Congregation Beth Am. Confirmation services for that class were held on May 20, 1934 with Rabbi Nowak officiating.
In September of 1934, a small chapel was opened at the temple's downtown offices. A service was held at this location at 12:45 daily for the convenience of Downtown workers. This was a highly Cleveland Heights.
The first year ended with the election of officers for the following year. Simon Green, who had been serving as acting president, was elected as the Community Temple's first president on November 11, 1934.
Meanwhile, at B'nai Jeshurun in 1933, Rudolph M. Rosenthal was installed as its rabbi. Rabbi Rosenthal was a native Clevelander. He did his undergraduate work at Hebrew Union College of Cincinnati and received his rabbinical degree from the Jewish Institute of Religion of New York and his master of arts from Teacher's College, Columbia University. Rabbi Rosenthal was installed as the congregation's eighth rabbi by his teacher, Rabbi Stephen M. Wise, dean of the Jewish Institute of Religion of New York.
B'nai Jeshurun continued its growth and had almost 1400 children in its religious school with a membership of 2000 families.
The temple won national and international attention in many areas of service under the guidance of Rabbi Rosenthal. B'nai Jeshurun was the first large congregation in the United States to enroll all of its members in the Zionist Organization.
In 1936, Rabbi Nowak left the Community Temple to take the pulpit of Congregation Beth El of New Rochelle, New York. By this time Temple membership had grown to 330 families and the Sunday School's enrollment had swelled to 467 with a teaching staff of 27. In his last months with Community Temple, Rabbi Nowak officiated in the temple's first Bar Mitzvah and the Sunday School's first High School Graduation.
Rabbi Nowak's successor, Rabbi Harold Goldfarb, arrived from New York where he had served Bay Shore Jewish Center in July of 1936. Rabbi Goldfarb was as progressive as his predecessor. Speaking to the press on his arrival in Cleveland, he said:
"In these days of economic reorganization, when religious institutions are accused of supporting entrenched wealth, of being tools in the hands of a selfish and greedy class, it is heartening to know that the Community Temple is a classless synagogue, where the need of expressing oneself Jewishly and the desire to give one's children some knowledge of the great Jewish heritage are impelling motives toward affiliation with it."
The following year, Community Temple looked for a new home. Later in 1937 a large house on Washington Boulevard across from Coventry Elementary School was purchased. Interior walls were removed so that a small chapel could be built. The congregation soon outgrew the Washington Blvd. house and loft space was rented at 9801 Euclid Avenue. A building fund was established in 1940 with the acquisition of a permanent temple location as its goal.
In 1943, during World War II was soon upon us and in 1943 Rabbi Goldfarb took a leave of absence to join the Chaplaincy. Rabbi Reuben Slonin and Rabbi Ludwig Roeder served as interim rabbis until Rabbi Goldfarb returned after the war in 1946. After only one year back from the war, Rabbi Goldfarb resigned from the temple and returned to Europe to help in the rehabilitation effort.
At B'nai Jeshurun, the liturgical interpretation of the prayers was chanted by Cantor Saul Meisels who was hired to replace Cantor Harry Rickel in 1942 when he retired from active cantorial duties. Cantor Rickel remained as Cantor Emeritus of the congregation.
A New Building for Congregation Beth Am
The building at 3557 Washington Boulevard in Cleveland Heights was purchased from the Trinity Congregational Church and a new rabbi was hired. The evening of October 19, 1947 saw the beginning of a new era at the Community Temple with a ceremony jointly dedicating the new temple building and the installation of Rabbi Jack J. Herman, who was to remain the spiritual leader of the synagogue for the next twenty two years.
Rabbi Herman had received his bachelor of arts degree at the age of 19 and been ordained at 22. Before coming to Community Temple, he had served at Anshe Emeth Temple in Youngstown and Beth Israel Temple in Warren.
The Young People's Congregation (Y.P.C) of The Temple on the Heights, founded in 1949, under the chairmanship of Alex Wintner, a former president of the congregation, was "a 'first' in the Conservative Movement with regards to being a completely separate congregation in function but still part of the main congregation. The Y.P.C. had its own Rabbi, Cantor and Choir, Sanctuary, Offices and Board of Trustees. Its purpose (was) to meet the needs of the young Jewish population by providing a homogeneous, religious and social group. At age 36, members automatically transfer to the senior congregation." Its motto was "Where Faith and Friendship Meet".
The 50's and 60's
In 1953, the Beth Am building's lower floor was remodeled with the construction of a social hall and classrooms. This same year saw the establishment of the daily Minyan services. By 1956 the membership of Community Temple (also known as Congregation Beth Am) had grown to 600 families with 500 students in the Religious School and 175 students in the daily Hebrew School. This same year saw a major dedication ceremony with the Dedicatory Address delivered by Rabbi Abba Hillel Silver of The Temple.
In 1956, Temple on the Heights was expanding. A new wing was added to the building. This section included classrooms, Rabbis' offices, business offices and a chapel. The various names of the rooms of the old and new building helped recall its leaders through B'nai Jeshurun's history: Spira Hall, Amster Hall, Gottfried Chapel, Fishbein Hall, Horowitz Youth Center, Loveman Lounge, Sisterhood Parlour, Kohn Chapel and Jacobson Library. Major renovations to the older building were carried out following the construction of the new addition.
On the High Holidays, due to the size of Heights Temple's membership, services were held in the Sanctuary and Spira Hall for the main congregation; Fishbein Hall for Y.P.C., Amster Hall and Gottfried Chapel for the junior congregation, the audiovisual room for the younger members of the school. In addition, Kohn Chapel was used for many years as the site of an Orthodox Service for the more traditional members of the congregation.
In the late 1950's, Heights Temple hired Rev. Ben Cantor, an Orthodox rabbi as the ritual director. He prepared boys and girls for Bar and Bat Mitzvah as well as leading the daily minyan and reading Torah for the congregation. He served in this capacity until his retirement in the early 1980's.
In 1958, another group of unhappy members left Heights Temple and formed Beth Shalom. The congregation only lasted for two years. One of the issues which may have led to this break away was the idea of Bat Mitzvah for girls. This change of practice was not adopted by the congregation until 1961 when Bonnie Danziger celebrated becoming a Bat Mitzvah on a Friday evening. Five years later, the first Shabbat morning Bat Mitzvah occurred when Bonnie Kabin shared the service with her twin brother. However, Bonnie was not allowed to have an aliyah to the Torah. Aliyot for women were not allowed until several years later.
Tragedy struck Congregation Beth Am in 1967. A fire, beginning in a small storage room, and fueled by the lower floor's highly polished wooden paneling, destroyed 15 classrooms, office space, the chapel and the social hall. The sanctuary also suffered severe smoke damage. Although two Torahs were extensively burned, a prized 500 year old Torah in the sanctuary remained undamaged. Ironically the fire broke out while Rabbi Herman was inspecting the building with the temple's insurance agent in an effort to lower insurance rates based on the temple's low loss record.
Despite offers for temporary quarters from every synagogue in greater Cleveland, an offer from John Carroll University for the use of Kulas Hall was accepted. Religious School classes where moved to Taylor Elementary School, and the daily minyan was moved to the Bureau of Jewish Education on Taylor Road.
Tragedy struck a second time just two years later in May of 1969 when Rabbi Herman died in New York City after a short illness. He was only 46 years old and left a widow and three young children. Rabbi Herman was well loved by the congregation and his loss was deeply felt.
August of 1969 saw the arrival of Rabbi Norman N. Shapiro from Dallas Texas. Rabbi Shapiro left just six months later, last officiating on January 31, 1970. In a letter to the congregation, he informed the members that "due do physical and personal problems, I must submit my resignation."
The first woman to serve as an elected member of the Temple on the Heights' Board of Trustees was Alice Deitz. She was elected in 1969, 103 years after the founding of the congregation. Six years later, she became the first woman officer of the congregation, serving as the associate secretary. That year, three more women were elected to the Board.
"Recognizing the continued movement of the congregation's membership east ward, the temple leadership proposed a new home of worship in a location better able to serve the needs of the congregation. In 1969, the Board of Trustees voted to build the new temple on the land in Pepper Pike that had been generously donated by Sidney N. Amster."
On November 1, 1970, Rabbi Michael Hecht was installed as Rabbi of Congregation Beth Am. Participants in the installation services included Rabbi Jacob Shtull of Mayfield-Hillcrest Temple (now Congregation Shaarey Tikvah), Rabbi Arthur Lelyveld of Fairmount Temple, and Beth Am President David Bohnen.
Construction of a school was begun with the purchase of the house immediately to the west of the synagogue. The house was torn down and a new building was held on December 14, 1969. The new Rabbi Jack J. Herman Religious School Building was dedicated on June 4, 1971. Funds for the building of the new school were raised from the membership and the remainder was borrowed. A mortgage redemption ceremony was held on April 12, 1981.
Early in the 1970's another split from B'nai Jeshurun occurred. Rabbi Milton Rube, an assistant rabbi formed Congregation Bethaynu and a large group of members went with him.
With a large, old congregation the size of B'nai Jeshurun, more cemetery land was needed. Six acres were purchased in Chesterland, Ohio, for a second cemetery. The cemetery was dedicated in 1973.
In 1974, Congregation Beth Am experienced a critical financial crisis. A motion that Beth Am merge with Temple on the Heights was put to a congregational vote on May 2 of that year. In an overwhelming vote of confidence, the motion was defeated by a margin of 232 to 27.
The congregation was then faced with the option of raising nearly $40,000 or of closing its doors for good. A sum of $35,000 was raised in less than two weeks, nearly retiring the temple's indebtedness and giving the temple a sound financial footing.
The years 1974 through 1994 were quiet ones for Congregation Beth Am. Under the leadership of Rabbi Michael Hecht and Hazzan Martin Leubitz (1973-1994), the congregation saw two decades of unprecedented stability.
The Beth Torah Religious School was formed in 1975 between B'nai Jeshurun and Park Synagogue. It was hoped that eventually Beth Torah would be able to provide Hebrew education for all the Conservative congregations in Cleveland. Early in the 1980's, Beth Am, joined Beth Torah and the school grew to 500 children in grades 3-7.
In 1976, after serving The Temple on the Heights for 43 years, Rabbi Rosenthal became Rabbi Emeritus. Many rabbis had been associate and/or assistant rabbis during those 43 years. They included: Pinchas Goodblatt, George Pollack, Morton Levy, Milton Rube, and David Spitz.
The last Associate Rabbi that served with Rabbi Rosenthal was Rabbi Herbert Schwartz. Rabbi Schwartz had joined the congregation in 1974 and succeeded Rabbi Rosenthal as senior rabbi. Rabbi Rosenthal continued to be involved in the synagogue and community until his death in 1979.
On May 7, 1978, fifty-four years after breaking ground for the Mayfield Road building, the members of B'nai Jeshurun joined together in Pepper Pike at Brainard and Fairmount Boulevards for their 112th annual meeting and ground-breaking ceremonies.
On the first day of Chanukah, Friday, December 14, 1979, the congregation joined together again on Fairmount Blvd. to consecrate the new building.
Cantor Saul Meisels, after serving the congregation for 37 years, retired early in 1979, He had been acknowledged as one of the nation's outstanding cantors. He "brought artistry and spiritual fulfillment through the medium of music to our temple." He became Cantor Emeritus of the congregation and was succeeded by Cantor Kenneth Koransky.
Finally, in May, 1980, B'nai Jeshurun dedicated its new home in Pepper Pike. The Sefrei Torah were brought to the building in all the splendor due to them. The ten mile walk from the old building on Mayfield to their new home was one of jubilation and pride. From generation to generation, the Torahs were passed as the congregants showed their spirit and the joy.
Cantor Koransky was cantor of the congregation for only one year. Cantor Yehuda Shifman, replaced him and remained cantor of the congregation until July, 1987 when Cantor Edward Berkovits assumed the position.
Rabbi Schwartz served the congregation until July, 1983, when he left to assume a pulpit in Longmeadow, Massachusetts. His successor was Rabbi Leon B. Fink who served the congregation for the next three years.
Rabbi Moshe Cahana, came to B'nai Jeshurun in January, 1987 for a six-month period while the congregation searched for a rabbi.
Stanley Schachter. , the former Vice Chancellor of the Jewish Theological Seminary was the congregation's choice for the senior rabbi position. Rabbi Schachter began his tenure in 1987. Due to the size of the congregation, associate rabbis were also needed. Rabbis David Seed and Paul Kerbel. Respectively, served the congregation, and have since gone on to become senior rabbis at other congregations.
Following in the footsteps of his uncle, Cantor Aaron Shifman joined the congregation in November, 1998. He has renewed the congregation's love of music, both liturgical and popular, organizing concerts and introducing new tunes for traditional prayers. Zamir Choir, a youth choir which is the successor of the Cantor's Club from Cantor Meisels era and Koleinu Choir, a group of adult voices, enjoy working with the Cantor.
Two congregations officially became one again on July 1, 1999 as members of B'nai Jeshurun voted overwhelmingly in favor of merging with Congregation Beth Am. The vote came a month after a similar overwhelming response for a merger from Beth Am congregants.
Finally on a cool, damp, rain-threatening Sunday morning on October 17, 1999, 300 people gathered at Congregation Beth Am for a difficult but historic event. They embarked on a four mile March of the Torah scrolls. Nine Torahs were proudly carried through the neighborhoods to Pepper Pike. Men, women and children, long-time and new members, shared the sacred task to bring the Torahs to the B'nai Jeshurun Ark.
At the 134th annual meeting of B'nai Jeshurun in May 2000, Deborah Botnick was elected president of the congregation. She is the first woman to serve B'nai Jeshurun in that office although Congregation Beth Am had its first woman president, Margaret Bohnen in 1987.
When Rabbi Schachter announced his intention to retire and the congregation embarked on a nationwide search for his replacement. After a two year search, Rabbi Stephen Weiss was elected senior rabbi and assumed his official duties on April 17, 2001.
Sharing the pulpit and rabbinic duties with Rabbi Weiss, is Rabbi Hal Rudin-Luria who was hired as the assistant rabbi at the time of his ordination by the Jewish Theological Seminary. His title has since then been re-designated as rabbi. Since his ordination, Rabbi Rudin-Luria has continued his studies and is now a certified mesader gittin-officiant of Jewish divorce.
Early in 2011, the Congregation began discussions with Congregation Bethaynu about the future of the small congregation that was having financial difficulties. B’nai Jeshurun’s president, Alan Gottlieb appointed a committee to meet with members of Congregation Bethaynu to discuss their future. When Congregation Bethaynu closed the doors at the end of June, 2011, many of the members were welcomed into the B’nai Jeshurun family. Memorabilia from their building were brought over to B’nai Jeshurun for safe storage. Congregation Bethaynu’s sanctuary doors, were given to B’nai Jeshurun and the congregation mounted them at the entrance to Nickman Chapel.
New memorial plaques to honor the memory of the Congregation Bethaynu congregants were created and added to the existing memorial tablets in the David J. Moskowitz Sanctuary at B’nai Jeshurun Congregation.
Rabbi Rona Shapiro of Congregation Bethaynu was welcomed into the clergy team at B’nai Jeshurun Congregation first as a guest rabbi and then officially joined the staff on July 1, 2011.
Rabbi Rudolph M. Rosenthal, of blessed memory, summed up the congregation on the occasion of its 100th anniversary in 1966 by saying,
In our mind's eye, we visualize old familiar faces, we walk along the road of beautiful memories. Perhaps it is only imagination, but we seem to hear all these voices uttering the benediction, 'Well Done.' Yes, we are sentimental when the sentiments and memories are so meaningful and moving! True- the memory of the good is for a blessing.
Written by Helen Rosenstein Wolf
Revised July 19, 2012
L'dor V'dor: 150th Anniversary Documentary (2016)
L’dor V’dor: The History of B’nai Jeshurun, our 150th anniversary documentary, is now available to be streamed in your home and around the world. The documentary film by Todd Kwait explores the history of our synagogue through historic recordings, photographs, interviews, and newly filmed footage. We are very proud of this film, and our rich history, and encourage you to share the link with others. Watch documetary
B'nai Jeshurun celebrates 30 year anniversary move
Watch the video here.