Home page The Occident and American Jewish Advocate Jews in the Civil War Jews in the Wild West History of Palestine The Occident Virtual Library


The Congregation Beth-El, at Albany.

[By Isaac M. Wise]

This congregation numbers at present 150 contributing members, and is governed by a president, (Ferdinand Schulz, Esq.,) a vice-president, (Maier Freund, Esq.,) and three trustees. The Synagogue is a very small building, located in a respectable private street, nearly in the centre of the city. The entrance to the Synagogue is at the north side; opposite the door is the seat of the Rabbi. On the east side is thee holy ark, which is surrounded by a platform. On the two sides of the ark are the seats of both the presiding officers; in the front of it, one step high, is the reader’s desk, and two steps higher is the pulpit. On the west side of the Synagogue are the seats of the choir, separated from the other seats by a low partition and curtains; the entrance to it is from the basement of the building.

The Sabbath service is held in the following manner. The Minchah and Arbith have only this exception from the general Minhag, that ולמלשינים and במה מדלילין are left out. In the Shacharith, the only alteration introduced is that they say שיר היחוד and שיר הכבוד in lieu of פרשת ומשנת הקרבנות.

Whilst the choir sings, in a solemn manner, the conclusion of אין כמוך, the Rabbi, with one that has the Mitzvah, opens the ark, and after the reader has chaunted the ויהי בנסע, the person who has the opening of the Hechal takes out the Torah and gives it to the Rabbi, who recites a short prayer and hands it over to the reader; then the choir proceeds with the שמע, &c.

After the reading of the Parasaah, the Rabbi reads the Haftorah and a Hebrew prayer in the form of מי שברך, for the prosperity of the country, and the congregation and their officers; then follow אשרי, &c.; מזמור and ובנחה are said by the Rabbi ; then the choir sings a hymn, <<417>>which is followed by a sermon on every Sabbath and holy day, after which another hymn is sung. The Musaph prayer is said by the reader aloud, and the congregation joins with him. The מזמור של יום is recited in lieu of פטום הקטורת, and the whole service is concluded, after עלינו, with a Hallelujah, or any other hymn, by the choir.

The whole service takes about three hours. On the festivals there is an addition of הלל ,ה׳ ה׳ אל רחום, and אדיר אדירנו; all Piyutim are abolished. On Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippurim, the general Minhag is preserved, with a few exceptions; the same is the case with the daily service. In such prayers where it is an established custom to stand, the Rabbi rises first, and after him the Parnassim, with the whole congregation, who stand till the Rabbi has sat down again. A profound silence, a solemn stillness, and a sincere devotion reign among all the worshippers; there is no going in and out, no speaking and no laughing, no whispering and no moving about during divine worship; and as often as the doors are opened, the house is crowded by members and strangers, Jews and gentiles. This was especially the case during the last holy days; though benches were set even in the hall to accommodate the strangers, yet more than fifty had to go away, finding no room, either in the synagogue or in the hall.

The choir consists of four girls, four boys, and seven gentlemen. It is presided over by Mr. L. Beckel, and has been taught and directed by Mr. Brand. The music of Sulzer, the precentor in Vienna, as published in his שיר ציון, and the well-known זמירות ישראל of Wurtemberg, make up the compendium of the pieces sung by this choir, which has attained such a readiness and practice in the sacred songs, that I may call it the best one in the United States.

The school of the congregation is under charge of the Rabbi, assisted by two teachers. It numbers nearly one hundred scholars, and is divided into three departments, each having a separate room. The first is the infant school, comprising children from five to seven years of age; and the branches taught are Hebrew reading, English spelling, Hebrew words, and catechism. The second department, comprising children from seven to ten years of age, receives instruction in translating the Hebrew Bible, grammar, and catechism; in English reading, spelling, and writing; in the first elements of arithmetic, geography, English grammar, and the history of the United States. The third department comprises children from ten to thirteen years of age, and the branches taught are the original text of the Bible, with grammatical and philological explanations, catechism, Hebrew grammar, universal history and geography, grammar and rhetoric, natural history and <<418>>arithmetic, writing and composition.

No difference is made between boys and girls in their studies, so that some of the latter know even more of Hebrew than the boys. The Parnass appoints annually a committee of seven to inspect the school. Semi-annual examinations take place in the Synagogue, in the presence of the trustees, the committee, and a great mass of spectators. The last of these examinations took place from the third to the seventy day of Tishri, 5610, A. M., and many of the children received handsome prizes for their correct and extensive knowledge in Hebrew and their other studies. It will perhaps be hardly believed, when I state that a girl, scarcely ten years of age, could translate every Hebrew word in the Pentateuch, and knew the whereabouts of every passage;—that a boy only twelve years old, who has been only one year in this school, and about fifteen months in this country, answered every question put to him in ancient history, and read a short biography of Junius Brutus, his own composition, which is written in remarkably correct English,—but these are simple facts.

The last meeting of this congregation took place on the evening of the second holy day. Upon the appeal of the Rabbi, two resolutions were passed almost unanimously:

  1. Resolved, That a delegate be sent from the congregation to the convention of Israelites, wherever and whenever it may take place.
    Moses Schloss, Esq., was then elected, by a vast majority, delegate to the convention.
  2. The public sale of the Mitzvoth be for ever abolished.

This congregation has four different benevolent societies:—

  1. חברת אהבת אחים “The Society of Fraternal Love,” for supplying the sick with a weekly allowance of three dollars, attendance on the sick, and for burying the dead, making Minyan, and learning a Shiur in the house of the mourner.
  2. “The Ladies’ Benevolent Society,” for the accomplishment of the same duties and obligations as the Society of Fraternal Love, with the exception of Minyan and Shiur.
  3. “The Ladies’ Progression Society.” This is a sewing society, which holds semi-annual fairs, and spends the money for benevolent purposes, and endeavours to effect a modern progress in the divine worship.
  4. תלמוד תורה חברה “The Society to Educate the Children of the Poor.” This society pays the school-fees and supplies the children of the poor with books. The president of this society, (Moses Schloss, Esq.,) is also chairman of the school-committee.

There exists yet a fifty society, “The Hebrew Reform Society,” <<419>>whose object it is to maintain the choir in the Synagogue, and to effect adequate reforms suitable to our age. The president of this society, (Louis Beckel, Esq.,) is also president of the choir.

It is rumoured that this congregation is deliberating on a plan to build a new Synagogue, a thing greatly to be desired; but it is generally supposed that the financial condition of the congregation will not allow the plan to be carried into effect.

There exists yet a Hebrew congregation in Albany, called Beth-Jacob, comprising about thirty or forty members. They have lately built up a new Synagogue, and instituted a school, under the charge of their Chazan, Rev. Mr. Newburg.

There are also a great many Jews in Albany who belong to no congregation whatever, because in the Beth-El Synagogue no seats are to be had, and they have no great love for the Beth-Jacob.

I hear, also, from a reliable source, that Rev. Isidor Kalisch has been elected lecturer and teacher of the congregation at Cleveland, Ohio. This gentleman is a ripe scholar in every respect.

The intelligence that Mr. A. A. Lindo has left us for a better world, has painfully affected us. We have lost one of Israel’s heroic defenders, a good man and a good citizen. May peace and bliss surround him in the world of spirits, and may the glory of the Lord recompense his endeavours and piety. He has built up a monument in the heart of every pious Jew.