In the Beginning…. 1891, the founding year of Congregation Shearith Israel Synagogue. The name was chartered as Chevro Saris Israel. The charter was renewed in 1912 and 1932. In February of 1950 the name was officially changed to Shearith Israel Synagogue.
Some of the Board of Trustees at that time were Phillip Feinberg, Maurice Shapiro, Philip Kravtin, and Louis Franklin. In the beginning there were about fifteen Jewish families of eastern European origin and they met in several different Jewish merchants’ buildings in downtown Columbus. They eventually decided to build one of their own.
This group donated $100 each to purchase land and to build a building on the corner of 7th Street and 1st Avenue in downtown Columbus. The cost was approximately $6,500.
Some of the founding families were Louis Friedman, Moses Hirsch, Boris Satlof, Louis Franklin, Ephraim Cohn, Sol Levinson, D. Goldstein, Max Cohn, Phillip Feinberg, Louis Berman, Morris Gerson, and William Clein. That was a lot of money in those days as dues were only .50 cents to $15 a month. As one entered the new synagogue they were immediately in the sanctuary; no foyer. The wooden pews were where the men sat facing the “Bima”. The women of the congregation had a gallery upstairs.
The back portion of the building housed one large room which was used as a classroom for students of all ages. Beyond that was the ritual bath- “Mikvah”. William Clein was president. Boris Satlof, a peddler, was in Eufaula, AL and discovered an ark. This ark was found in a building which was thought it may have been an old synagogue as Eufaula did have a small Jewish community at one time.
Boris excitedly came back to Columbus; discussed the ark with many of the founding members and with the help of Louis Franklin they decided to buy it for their new building. Once they made the purchase, Boris Satlof had the massive Ark brought here by a dray and horses. Year of age and dust covered the Ark. In 1951 before moving into the new Synagogue on Wynnton Road it was re-finished and its original beauty was restored.
Rabbi W.F Werbin came to Columbus on 1906 and remained as Rabbi, teacher, moyel, schochet until 1922. The Feinberg, Hirsch, Gerson, Jake Feinberg, Levinson, Kravtin, Meyers, Friedman, Shapiro, Kamensky families all lived around the downtown area on second and third avenues with in walking distance of the synagogue.
Close by on Fourth Avenue and 9th street was a grocery store run by Abe and Ann Hirsch, the center for the purchasing of Jewish food for the Jewish community with barrels of pickles and schmaltz herring, salami and corned beef, etc. The duties of the schochet were done by Rev. William Funk and the kosher butcher was Dave Cohn, who would kill one cow for the whole community.
1920 - 1940's
In 1922 Fort Benning was designated as a permanent base for the US Army. Much of the growth of Columbus can be attributed to the development of Ft. Benning. Shearith Israel has always welcomed Jewish soldiers and families to synagogue life. Many Jewish soldier’s wives and family would stay in the homes of Shearith Israel congregants so that they could be with their husbands for the holidays or until they were shipped overseas.
Through the early years of Chevro Saris several Rabbis came through this small yet growing congregation. Rabbis Kahn, Goodman, Galanty, Bloom and Schulman... In 1932, Rev. William Funk served as Rabbi, Cantor and Schochet. By the 1940’s membership reached the 100 family mark. In the latter part of the 40’s, Rabbi Funk went into semi-retirement and Rabbi Elijah Stampher joined the congregation as Rabbi and Rev. Funk remained as the cantor and schochet. Rabbi Stampher was remembered for his great efforts toward the new building that was being planned during this time.
Leaders of the synagogue during this time were David Gerson, Maurice Shapiro, Aaron Satlof, Phillip Feinberg, Sol Singer, Philip Kravtin, Dan Besser, Isadore Monsky, Aaron Funk and others. Many were merchants, lawyers, doctors, and professionals. It was under their leadership that the name was changed to Shearith Israel– a Remnant of Israel.
This was also the time that plans for the new structure were formulated. Land was purchased on Wynnton Road and ground was broken on January 25, 1950. There are pictures and videos available of this event. A three bedroom home in which future rabbis would live was also built adjacent to the grounds as a parsonage for the Rabbi and family.
Rabbi Emanuel Bennett was the first rabbi of this newly constructed Synagogue and with him came changes. Men and women sat together for worship! Services were being read in Hebrew and English. Young women were trained and given the opportunity to have the ceremony for becoming a “Bat Mitzvah”. Ila Stern Berenson, Myrna Lafkowitz, and Debra Gerson Goldman were among the first few.
In 1948 Shearith Israel applied for membership in to the United Synagogue of America. Although “Conservative Judaism” was difficult to swallow for some , the congregation grew. Minyon services every morning and evening were held. Women, as usual were the driving force and back bone of the new endeavor. Frances Gerson Siegel was president of the Sisterhood, in 1951, and was responsible for the stage curtains, windows in the social hall, furnishings, kosher kitchen and more. As usual food, dinners, meals, luncheons, breakfasts were a major reason to get together besides religious services.
Future Rabbis and Growth Spurt
Some of the Rabbis in future years were Seymour Panitz, Morris Silverman, Leonard Bornstein, Joseph Renov, Arthur Rulnick, Theodore Feldman, Lester Schwartz, Leonard Muroff, Arthur Rutberg, Levins, Max Roth, and Brian Glusman.
Shearith Israel experienced a growth spurt during the 50’s. Under Rabbi Abelson’s administration, a Men’s Club Men was formed.
Dr. A.J. Kravtin was its first president and Marvin Singer was its second. Men’s Club were the building ground for further leadership in synagogues in the Conservative movement. Under Rabbi Abelson spiritual growth within the congregation increased further. The congregation was quite active in the Conservative movement.
Shearith Israel was always proud of its young people and always active in USY– United Synagogue Youth. Many children attended Camp Ramah in Massachusetts, USY on Wheels and USY Israel Pilgrimage. Our Sisterhood also was among the first Sisterhoods to be associated with the new region called the Southern Branch. They entered this era of new Organizations under the leadership of Mrs. Harry Gerson (Inez).
Most women in the synagogue were involved at this time in Sisterhood. The fund raising efforts of the Sisterhood were successful and instrumental in the growth of the congregation. Among the projects were the sale of Bagel boxes, rummage sales, art auctions, and a profitable gift shop. The original rummage sales were held in stores in downtown Columbus and lasted for a month.
Under the administrations of Sammy Kravtin and Werner Spiegel a new dairy kitchen, multipurpose room, and classrooms were added to the building. Women were given full religious rights of worship with the synagogue under guidance of Rabbi Theodore Feldman. During the presidency of Richard Grifenhagen a new larger house was built nearby for Rabbi as a parsonage on 16th street.
1980's through Today
In 1987 Shearith Israel became one the five neighborhood churches and synagogues to become involved with a group known as the Wynnton Neighborhood Network (WNN). Rabbi Richard Eisenberg was instrumental in the formation of this group. Other active and vital presidents were Kenneth Goldman, Maurice Kravtin, Michael Silverstein, Gloria Cohen, Milton Hirsch and Leslie Cohn during this time.
In 1990 and 1991 plans were formulated and carried out for a combined Hebrew school called the Columbus Jewish Religious School for all children in the area. This endeavor was abandoned after 7 or 8 years. The 1990s saw growth of family memberships. Presidents that served in the 90’s and later were Harold Becker, Matt Jacobs, Jacob Beil, Michael Goldman, Maxine Kaplan and Lauren Mescon.
In 2007 the building on Wynnton Road had out grown our congregation so that building was sold. After a year of using the Chapel at Temple Israel and a major renovation of the house on 16th Avenue, our services and activities are held in the house. We call it coming home to traditional Judaism. We pride ourselves on our great programs and events as well as our theme Shabbatot—such as: BBQ, Mojitos & Mishna, A taste of Tex—Mex, Cook-outs and more. The fall of 2013 Shearith Israel found a new home on River Road on the north end of town. Under the leadership of Rabbi Brian Glusman and a very enthusiastic membership Shearith Israel is now growing once again.
ATTENTION… copies available!
Special DVD Announcement THE PREQUAL
Shearith Israel Synagogue the first 50 Years A 16mm film was found by Bill Levinsohn and GG Siegel. The title of the 16mm film was “Shearith Israel – the first 50 years”. They had no idea what was on it or could it even be viewed. We were able to transfer the film to a DVD and it is amazing. The first 50 years, the ground breaking, the parents, the grandparents – the past preserved on a DVD. You may get a copy by contacting the office today.
The original DVD The History of Shearith Israel Synagogue Produced
By: Celia Solomon.