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Consecration of the New Synagogue Bnai Jeshurun of New York

Communicated by A. Abraham

If ever there was an occasion in our life in which we felt ourself proud at being an Israelite, if ever there was a time in which we felt ourself, though but an atom in creation, yet still an instrument in God’s hands, or if ever the glory of being one of His chosen was made manifest in the sight of the Gentiles: it was when, on Friday the 11th day of Tamuz, 5607, we found ourself one of the happy few chosen to do our mite towards the celebration of the consecration of the new house of prayer, dedicated on that day to the worship of Israel’s God. That day, a happy day for those who participated in its glorious festivities, will long be remembered by all, and fraught as it must be with blessings to the rising generation, it will be an era to which those of the present and the future may look to as the dawn of a better state of existence for the American Jew.

Fearless of encountering difficulties, at which the strongest minds might have trembled, a handful of men, good and true, nerved in the strong faith which has shed such hallowed glory on the memories of their fathers, have in the empire city of the West, raised a temple to God, which in beauty of architectural design, and in general finish, can bear favourable comparison with any similar edifice in Europe, and can safely bid defiance to any on this continent. Conversant as we have been with all the Synagogues of any note in England, we must say that (the great Synagogue of London excepted) we know not of any that to our mind excels it, in what we consider the essentials of such a building. To the architects, Messrs. Blesch and Eidlitz, much praise is due for having erected the edifice as it now stands; but to those gentlemen of the building committee, whose every energy has been taxed in superintending the same in its progress, and who have sacrificed for it every consideration of time and means, too much credit can never be given. To particularize where all are meritorious, may appear partial and unnecessary; yet we cannot help naming Louis Levy, Esq., president of the congregation, and Arthur L. Levy, Esq., as especially deserving the thanks of the members for their unwearied endeavours towards the completion of the Synagogue. Those who have not had an opportunity of seeing it as we have, can have no conception of the harassing trouble, continued perseveringly and unhesitatingly through a long period of difficulty and annoyance, which these two worthy gentlemen have undergone, and unthankful as is the office at any time of serving a public body, where the best intentions are frequently misconstrued: yet in this instance, if even the thanks of the congregation were wanting, the self-satisfaction they must feel at seeing the good work in which they have so largely participated brought to so glorious a conclusion, must amply repay them for the past. The cornerstone of the building was laid on Tuesday, the 13th day of Tamuz, 5606, a description of which will be found on referring to the 41st number of The Occident, and the consecration took place on Friday, the 11th day of Tamuz, 5607, pest twelve months after the commencement of the building. The cost of the whole has been about thirty thousand dollars, and it is a fact worthy of being recorded, that the whole of this amount has been raised by gift and loans from our congregation. The exciting interest felt by the community at large as the time for the consecration drew nigh, was almost unprecedented; and it speaks much in favour of the condition of the Jews in New York, that from Christians of the most exalted standing in the city, both among the clergy and the laity, the applications for tickets to view this most interesting ceremony were innumerable and unceasing. Sums of money were offered, (in many instances without limit) for an admission. As it was, the number of Christian gentlemen and ladies who were present was very considerable; and had it not have been for a, to us, unfortunate and unforeseen contretemps in the visit of the President of the United States to New York on that day, the number would have been much greater. The appearance of the Synagogue on the occasion was truly grand: the massy pillars supporting the groined oak ceiling, unsurpassed in this city, the wide-spreading arches, between which were seen the galleries, filled with God’s best gift to man, the real ornaments of creation, the mothers, daughters, and sisters of Judah, the splendid appearance of the ark, the doors of which of carved oak were covered with a most superb curtain, the gift of John M. Davies, Esq. and lady, the unique and truly elegant receptacle for the perpetual light, one of the most beautiful things in the whole Synagogue, and evincing the good taste of the donor, Arthur L. Levy, Esq., the elaborately carved oak pulpit and reading desk, and, in fact, the tout ensemble of the building presented a coup d’oeil on which the eye rested with gratification, and the mind reflected on with a fervent gratitude to the Giver of all good, that we had been permitted to partake of so truly blessed a consummation. Among the most pleasing features of the day must not be forgotten the choir and orchestra, situated immediately under the superb stained glass window which embellishes the west end of the Synagogue. A temporary gallery was erected there, in which were placed a choir of ladies and gentlemen, numbering about forty voices, and an orchestra, composed of the elite of the New York Philharmonic band, numbering thirty performers, the whole under the able direction of E. Woolf, Esq., who discharged the duties devolving on him in a most praiseworthy and efficient manner. The entire of the music for the occasion was composed by him, and a more pleasing composition has seldom been listened to.

We shall marvel much if Mr. Woolf does not gain much well-deserved reputation from it. The appearance of the orchestra just previous to the commencement of the service, was exceedingly pleasing. The ladies, among whom was seen Mademoiselle Rachel Lichtenstein, were all dressed uniformly for the occasion in white, and made a very charming sight. The gentlemen of the orchestra, both vocal and instrumental, also added to the general goodliness of the scene. The service commenced at three o’clock precisely, with an overture by the band, a composition of exceeding beauty, in which were introduced several popular Hebrew melodies, harmonized and arranged with much skill, and played as the Philharmonic band should play it. Immediately after, the opening chorus by the choir שאו זמרה קול ששון “Raise aloud the Psalm,” was sung, followed by a flourish of trumpets. The minister of the congregation, the Rev. S. M. Isaacs, with the ministers of the Portuguese congregations of New York, Philadelphia, and Richmond, the Rev. Mr. Merzbach, of New York, the trustees, and several other gentlemen, bearing in their arms the Sepharim, or sacred books of the law, then approached the door of the Synagogue, under a canopy, and the Hazan knocking at the door, called out with a loud voice פתחו לנו צדק ושערי תפילה נבא בם נודה לה' “Open unto us the gates of righteousness, the Gates of Prayer, that we may enter through them and offer our grateful homage to God;” to which the ministers of the three German congregations of New York, who were stationed inside of the Synagogue, replied, זה השער לה' צדיקים יבאו בו &c., “This is the gate to the Lord, the righteous enter therein,” &c. The gentleman appointed for that purpose, John I. Hart, Esq., then unlocked the door, and the bearers of the law entered chaunting מה טובו “How goodly are thy tents, oh Jacob,” &c. The procession then moved slowly towards the ark, during which a most beautiful trio was sung by Mademoiselle Rachel, Mrs. Lawrence Myers, and Mrs. R. Lyons, to that part of the 118th Psalm אודך “I thank thee, for thou hast answered me,” and by the time the gentlemen arrived at the ark, the trio finished, and the whole choir suddenly burst into the sublime chorus ברוך הבא “Blessed is he who cometh in the name of the Lord.” This had a most thrilling effect, and was evidently felt by the assembled multitude. When the bearers of the law approached the holy ark, and the chorus had finished, the priest appointed for the service, B. A. Cohen, Esq., lit the perpetual light from the one that had been burning in the former place of worship; the Hazan then standing on the steps of the ark, chaunted with a loud voice ויהי בנסע הארון , the congregation making the usual responses, after which the blessing of שהחינו was said, and then followed the most impressive and heart-stirring part of the service, the glorious declaration of our faith, the שמע ישראל , given in a most feeling manner by the Rev. S. M. Isaacs, accompanied by the choir. We cannot help thinking that that moment was felt by all who were present as the most solemn part of the ceremony, and when we express our own feelings at that time, we think we speak that of our brethren. ‘Twas at that solemn time that the declaration of Our God is one God, swelled on high from voice and heart, a declaration, now spread over the whole face of the habitable globe, proclaiming to all faiths, all creeds, all sects. and all denominations, that, however they may blind themselves with a mistaken zeal, however they may arrogate to themselves the power of absolution, however, with a fervour worthy of a better cause, they may gloss over the palpable errors of their belief: yet to us and us alone belongs the law as given by God on Sinai, and it is we, the chosen of the Almighty, who, while we await with meekness the time for our redemption, are alone permitted to say, “Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God is alone the Lord.” The glorious heritage of our forefathers has descended to us, unbroken and unshaken; and after having, for so many centuries, combatted successfully the storms of adversity and the persecutions of the ungodly, we boldly challenge the world to show a parallel of a people worshipping in the comparative wilds of America in the same forms and in the same language as spoken by the Supreme to his chosen servants, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. It was a consciousness of all this, that gave an evident sublimity to that part of the service, tacitly acknowledged by all who were present. After the שמע ישראל the Sepharim were carried seven times round the Synagogue, during which a psalm was chaunted by one of the ministers, or sang by the choir as follows: to the first circuit, led by Rev. S. M. Isaacs, the choir sang the 30th Psalm; to the second circuit, led by Rev. J. J. Lyons (minister of the Portuguese congregation, New York) that gentleman chaunted in a very impressive manner the 84th Psalm; to the third circuit, led by Rev. E. Lyons (of Richmond) that gentleman chauntcd the 24th Psalm; to the fourth circuit, led by Rev. J. Hecht (minister of the Henry Street congregation, New York), that gentleman chaunted the 1324 Psalm ; to the fifth circuit, led by Rev. S. Heilner (minister to the Attorney Street congregation, New York), that gentleman chaunted the 5th Psalm; to the sixth circuit, led by Rev. M. Dantziger (minister to the Shaar Hashamayim congregation), that gentleman chaunted the 122d Psalm; and to the seventh circuit, led again by S. M. Isaacs, the choir sang the 100th Psalm. The Sepharim were then deposited in the ark, and the whole assembly being seated, the minister ascended for the first time the new pulpit that had been placed in the Synagogue for his use, and there delivered one of those impressive discourses that have gained him so enviable a notoriety among his brethren. It would be impossible to give an analysis of the reverend gentleman’s discourse, as without the test before us, we fear we should only mar what we would attempt to exalt; we dare say, the gentleman himself will give the editor of The Occident an opportunity of laying it in an unmutilated state before his readers; this, however, we may say, that he spoke with his usual eloquence and feeling for nearly three quarters of an hour, and concluded his discourse with an appeal to the purses of the auditory; and a better proof could not be adduced of the effects of his discourse, than that so well was it responded to, that at a collection taken up immediately after his address, no less a sum than three thousand dollars was offered. This large amount of money, collected at a time when so many calls have lately been made on our sympathies, speaks volumes of the favour in which this congregation is held by our brethren. Amongst our own congregation, sums varying in amount from one hundred to five dollars were freely given, and that, in most instances, in addition to very liberal offerings made at previous times. The liberality extended to us by our brethren of either congregations must also be acknowledged; and though unauthorized to say thus much, yet we know we speak the sentiments of all our members, when we say that their generosity is fully appreciated. To those gentlemen of the Christian faith, who have shown their friendly feelings towards us by donations (in some cases to a large amount), we also have to make our acknowledgments, feeling assured that the impulse that prompted them to give their assistance in so good a cause, will meet with an adequate response, should our mite be at any time needed.

While speaking on the subject of donations, it may not be out of place to record two or three gifts to the Synagogue (in addition to those already mentioned), valuable in their intrinsic worth, but receiving an additional value in the eyes of the recipients, as evincing a generous consideration for the Synagogue in the donors. To Mrs. Joseph we are indebted for a most superb filigree-worked silver Yad, the hand set with diamonds, altogether one of the handsomest things of the kind we have ever seen. To Angel H. Jacobs, Esq., are we indebted for a gift of a similar nature, which, though not so heavy as the other one, still evinces much taste in the manufacturer, and equal good taste in the donor; it is also set with diamonds. To Samuel Phillips, Esq., we are beholden for a massive silver Kiddush cup, a most appropriate gift, and one received with much satisfaction.

The donations having been disposed of, the prayer for the government was said, and a blessing invoked in behalf of the congregation, and those who had assisted in erecting the Synagogue. The Hazan then chaunted a Hebrew poem, written for the occasion by M. Content, Esq., an exceedingly clever composition, being an acrostic on the name of the congregation, intersected with one on his own name and that of his brother. We think the poem well worthy of being published. After that the 29th Psalm was sang by the choir in a most spirited and effective style, followed by the Hallelujah chorus, a composition of much beauty, and most excellently given. Henry Morrison, Esq., then ascended the pulpit, and delivered a closing address. We regret that the low tones of the speaker and the distance we were from him prevented us from hearing him as well as we could have wished, the more so, as the parts we did hear gave evidence of much talent in the speaker, and much good sense and judgment in the matter spoken. The service then concluded with the choir singing אדון עולם .

Thus finished one of the most interesting ceremonies that have ever taken place on this continent, and one which has reflected much credit on all who have assisted at it. To the trustees of the congregation, Messrs. L. Levy, I. N. Samuel, J. D. Phillips, and B. Joseph, much praise is due for the able manner in which everything for the service was arranged. To the different gentlemen who were on the several committees of reception and arrangement, to the ladies and gentlemen composing the choir, to the conductor of the music, to the worthy secretary, Mr. A. S. Solomons (who by-the-bye, was indefatigable in his exertions to see every body pleased), and in fact to each and every one of the persons who lent their aid on the occasion, thanks are due, for having by a judicious combination of individual exertion, produced an ensemble which gave universal satisfaction.

We did purpose giving a few closing remarks on matters connected with this as well as other congregations; but fearing we have already made this article too long, we shall defer it to a future number, and for the present we shall conclude with a hope that, as we shall by our acts and deeds deserve it, so shall the blessing of the Almighty God descend on our Gates of Prayer, until we shall become the model for our friends, the envy of our enemies, and the admiration of all.

In connexion with the interesting affair just described, the Synagogue was, on the day succeeding the consecration, filled with a numerous congregation, drawn there, in part, to hear a discourse about to be delivered by the Rev. I. Leeser of Philadelphia. The reverend gentleman had been solicited to do this by the trustees of congregation Shaaray Tefilla, and well and ably did he answer the call. It is long since we have listened to a more pleasing lecture, or one which gave evidence in its every sentence of better taste and judgment. It was listened to with much attention by his hearers, and from our own personal observation, coincided in by the opinion of all whom we have heard speak on the subject, it gave universal satisfaction.