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Vol. X No. 6
Elul 5612 September 1852

Origin and Progress of the Israelitish Anshe Chesed Congregation, of Cleveland, Ohio


Mr. Editor—As but little has hitherto been communicated to the public with regard to our congregation, I take the liberty to lay before your readers the following details, which cannot fail to be welcome to all who feel an interest in the progress of Jewish affairs in the western world; and I am the more moved thereto, because the transaction of the divorce, in which Rabbi Joseph Levy acted, has lately drawn much attention to our community, and hence it is proper that something should be known respecting us and our doings.
In the year 1839, three individuals, residents of this place, Messrs. <<306>> A. Lowentritt, S. S. Thomann, and S. Hopfemann, the latter of whom had brought with him a Sepher Torah from his native land, met for the purpose of forming a Jewish congregation. Many young men joined the call; and public worship was first held in a private house. Mr. S. Hopfemann was engaged as Hazan and Shochet, for the small salary of only fifty dollars; but the people proceeded at once to purchase a well-situated burying ground. The new congregation obtained a charter of incorporation, under the name of “the Israelite Congregation, Cleveland, Ohio,” and adopted the German mode of worship. After it had increased to 36 members, in the year 1841, a difference of opinion arose, which resulted in the division of the community, and the formation of a new one, under the name of אנשי חסד, Anshé Chesed. Not much can be reported of this latter body; for when, in the third year of its existence, the Synagogue of the other congregation was burnt down, both again formed a union, and by retaining both names, constituted themselves a new society, under the style of “the Israelitish Anshé Chesed Congregation.”

Neither of the factions had to boast of a material increase during their separate existence; and only after both parties had discovered that union is strength, or perhaps the conviction that a union of purpose alone could achieve the gratification of the greatly felt want of a house of God of their own, did they proceed in earnest to procure such a building. It is not deemed necessary to give in this sketch, an account of the steps taken to secure success.

Enough, in the year 1846, a handsome Synagogue, situated in a fine and quiet street, stood ready for the use of the people, and it is at this day free from debt. It has also a commodious dwelling for the sexton, and an excellent school-room for the children, and a large and convenient place for the meetings of the congregation. In building the Synagogue, the care for the moral and religious rearing of the rising generation was not lost sight of, and pains were taken that it should be duly promoted.

Mr. Asher Lehman, a scholar of the well-known Rabbi Hirsch, of Gellhausen, and formerly teacher in the kingdom of Hanover, then under the Rabbinical supervision of Dr. Adler, the present Chief Rabbi of England, was appointed to superintend the new school, and afterwards had associated with him an English teacher, to aid him in the usual branches of education. In the year 1849, both Mr. Lehman and the then Hazan, retired to private life, and Mr. Isidore Kalisch was appointed in their stead Hazan, teacher, and lecturer. If it would not leave a hiatus in the history of the congregation, I would pass over in perfect silence the short period of his labours in the same. But the <<307>> pages of history, even when treating of a mere corporation, must speak with equal impartiality as when recounting the fortunes of nations and states; and therefore permit us to recount this connexion in the shortest and least offensive manner.

It must be observed, also, that from this time is dated the commencement of a new congregation, called Tifereth Israel, which numbers several very highly respectable members, who are said to have a well-furnished place for their prayer meeting.* Mr. Kalisch, was only eight months in office, when a majority of the congregation resolved on his dismissal. A minority of some twenty odd members, thereupon separated, formed a new congregation on the 1st of October, 1850, called “Tifereth Israel,” and appointed Mr. Kalisch as Hazan and teacher (in which office he still remains).

* The writer of this has never seen this Synagogue, as he was not invited by the officers who had the matter in hand, to be present at its consecration.

In this way the Jewish community of Cleveland was again divided, which, however, has not materially diminished our numerical strength, as the Anshé Chesed now numbers from 70 to 80 members, and owes but 200 dollars upon all its property, consisting of Synagogue, burying ground, and a conveniently arranged Mikveh. The congregation Tifereth Israel pays for the use of the last two, an annual rent of 50 dollars to the old community; the privilege so conceded is nevertheless depending on certain conditions, which are specified in the contract. Mr. Joel Engelbart, the President of the new congregation, lately made overtures to the old Kahal for a reunion of the two bodies, which offer the old congregation will hardly agree to under present circumstances.

Our congregational school, likewise, which contains nearly one hundred scholars, is in the most flourishing state, and is under the sole charge of Mr. Fould, the successor of Mr. Kalisch; but in order to lighten his heavy labours, the congregation resolved, at their last meeting, to engage an assistant teacher.

In our worship we have made here and there several important changes. The sale of the Mitzvote has long since been abolished, and sermons in the German language have been introduced. On the late fast of the ninth of Ab, the service as found in the books was greatly curtailed; Mr. Fould recited only three Kinnoth, but delivered an appropriate address, referring to the nature and significance of the day, after which Rabbi Joseph Levy recited one Kinnah; but at nine o’clock the entire service was over. But in our congregation, at least, this fast is yet observed in the prescribed manner; and in the afternoon we had the usual service, and ויחל was read.
Of the address by Mr. Fould, we call especial attention to the following,
1. On the vanity of human life, on the last Rosh Hashanah, with reference to the blowing of the Shophar, and an explanation of the sounds Tekia, Shebarim and Terua, after the separate letters (נוטריקון): תשוב קודם יבוא עליך המות, “Repent before death overtakes thee,” &c.
2. On calumny, on Genesis xxxvii 1, 2.
3. Man proposes and God disposes, on Exod. xiv. 14, during the presence of Kossuth, with reference to his mission.
4. On Israel’s political profession in the presence of the European nations struggling for freedom; on the Song of Solomon, ii. 12 to 14.
Our Rabbi Joseph Levy favours us, as he lately announced in his justification with regard to the “divorce,” every Sabbath, with his edifying lectures in the German and Hebrew languages, and the seed which he thus scatters, falls not on an unfruitful soil.
Our congregational affairs are faithfully administered for the general good, by our board of officers, consisting of Mr. A. Goldsmith, President; Mr. S. Hopfemann, Treasurer, and Messrs. A. Halle, M. Fuldheim, and G. Michael, trustees.
You shall receive before long, a detailed report concerning the benevolent society, אהבת אחים “Brotherly Love,” which has been in existence for several years.
Yours, very respectfully,
B. L. F.
CLEVELAND, OHIO, August, 1852.