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Consecration of the New Synagogue, Kenesseth Shalom, at Syracuse, New York.


It is just seven years ago that we passed, during a short summer’s trip, through the western part of the State of New York, on our return from Canada homeward. We heard, indeed, of the presence of a few Israelites at Syracuse, and in other towns of the West. But no congregation existed nearer than Albany; and in the entire region west of that there was no public assembly for the worship of God, except at Cleveland, in Ohio.

But now see how great the change is which a few years have wrought, at Syracuse in especial, for of this it is our intention to speak. It was about the time when we passed through the city, that the Jewish community numbered seven members. when they were joined by six more: after which they united, we think at the instance of Mr. Isaac Henry Bronner, to meet for worship in a small room which they hired for the purpose. But soon they increased so rapidly that they resolved on erecting a building of their own which resulted in the wooden structure which was consecrated by Dr. Wise on Sabbath Nitzabim, 5606, or exactly five years before the dedication of the new house. Once in possession of a proper place of meeting, the community felt the impulse, until the room was too small to hold all who sought the house where the name of God was invoked among them. It therefore became evident that a larger Synagogue was absolutely required to answer the increased demand for seats, as even standing-room was not at all times to be obtained in the one then in use.

It must be taken into consideration that the far  larger portion of the members, who now number eighty-six, <<373>>mostly married men, are persons of very limited means; and but few among them, perhaps not above ten, can be styled comparatively rich. Still did this fact not deter them from devoting their money and their time,—this capital of the poor,—to the service of their God, and they resolved, as with one voice, in the spirit of concord and brotherly fellowship, to erect a more permanent and a much more spacious building than had hitherto served them. A piece of ground was accordingly purchased, in Mulberry Street, in an excellent and pleasant situation, for about 1400 dollars, and after disposing of a portion which they did not need for public purposes, they commenced, about the season of the last Passover, to proceed with the holy work. Every member contributed twenty-three dollars for the building fund,—an immense sum, in view of the limited resources of a large portion of the people, who support themselves by their daily toil. But the whole proceeding displays so much energy and devotedness, that we doubt whether there is a parallel to be found in larger and wealthier communities in this country. It argues that the Israelite’s heart is right, however unseemly at times his exterior may be; and if occasionally he errs, it is more owing to his unfavourable position than to any inherent defect of his character.    

When we reached Syracuse, we were prepared to see a good building, from the reports which had reached us on our journey; but we confess to our astonishment, when we beheld a large, roomy, and lofty house, every way worthy to serve as a place for the dwelling of the God of Jacob. It is, from the front to the rear wall, sixty-four feet in length, of which twelve feet are appropriated for the vestibule and stairways, leaving the entire length of the main Synagogue fifty-two feet. The width is forty-eight feet; but, as the gallery on the west extends over the entry, the ceiling covers the whole length, so that the breadth just named is in perfect harmony with the other dimensions. There is a gallery running along three sides, and an upper one for the choir, whenever they shall have it, on the west, fronting the ark. The ceiling is vaulted over the side galleries, and from them springs another vault over the centre, <<374>>giving a beautiful finish to the whole. From the middle of this is suspended a beautiful glass chandelier, the metal work of which is of gilt lacquer, and it has forty-two gas-burners, in three tiers. It was manufactured by the Messrs. Cornelius, of this city, at a cost of four hundred dollars, and, from its loftiness and graceful proportions, is a real ornament to the building. The seats are disposed of in two rows, with a broad walk between them, and a narrower margin on the sides, and are divided off in the centre, in the form of church pews, but without any doors. The portion near the ark is semicircular, as are also the step leading thereto and the ark itself, over which is a handsome stained-glass window, on which are inscribed the initial portions of the ten commandments. We regretted to observe the absence of a Reader’s stand, in lieu of which there is a sloped reading-table within the limits of the balustrade which surrounds the ark; within which are also two sofas for the President and Vice-President of the Congregation. There is also a movable pulpit, which can be placed when required within the opening of the balustrade just named, so that the preacher may face the audience. The wood-work down stairs is painted in imitation of black walnut, whereas the columns and gallery are of a neutral colour, the walls being plain white. There are five windows on each side of the house, four of which are in the main Synagogue and one in the entry. The material used is for the basement blue limestone, and brick for the superstructure.

A flight of stone steps lead to the main entrance, where we saw a tablet bearing the names of the officers, and of the persons who were instrumental in the erection the house, to wit Jacob Stone, President; I. H. Bronner, Vice-President; Henry Eckstein; Treasurer; Isaac Garson and Morris Marks, Trustees E. Ettenheimer, M. Cone, A. Henochsberg, I. Bronner, I. Oppen heimer, J. Silberman, R. Rosenbach, M. A. Marks, S. Bamberger, M. Goldstein, M. Wiseman, and S. Manheimer, Building Committee; T. Hayden, Architect and G. Blumer, Builder.

In the basement, which is lofty, there is a dwelling for the sexton, a meeting-room for the congregation, and a schoolroom; besides a Mikveh, supplied with hot and cold water. The <<375>>school and meeting-rooms are so arranged with folding doors that, upon an occasion requiring it, they can be transformed into a large hall, well-lighted, running the entire length of the main building.

The above is a brief description of the Synagogue and offices which presented themselves to our view on the day of the dedica­tion of the house, which ceremony took place on Friday after­noon, the 22d of Elul, the 19th of September. We had been originally invited to officiate at the consecration; but we understand that, by some mishap, our letter of acceptance was so long on the way, that the people, dreading our non-arrival, sent a message to the Rev. Dr. Raphall, the well-known preacher of the Green Street Synagogue of New York, to officiate in our stead, to which Dr. R. readily assented; and as the Rev. H. A. Henry, late of Cincinnati, had also passed through Syracuse lately in his progress to New York, he had either offered or been invited to perform the service of Hazan at the ceremony, wherefore we had nothing to do but to be a spectator of the solemn proceedings.

Active preparations had been going on for some days to put everything in order; a pretty carpet had been placed in the centre aisle, round the balustrade and within the same; a beautiful new curtain, the sides composed of heavy scarlet brocade, and the centre of red velvet, the whole the gift of Mr. M. Cone, as appears by a Hebrew inscription which it bears, had been suspended before the ark, and was only completed by the pious labours of various ladies, about two o’clock on the morning of the joyful day; the galleries had been ornamented with wreaths and festoons of flowers and evergreens, and the outside front been likewise ornamented in the same manner, whilst all around the building boughs of cedar, pine, and spruce, had been placed, and a double row was set up in front for the expected procession to pass between: when, about one o’clock in the afternoon, the congregation assembled in the old Synagogue, which was crowded with worshippers, to perform the afternoon service, which was read by the Rev. Mr. Henry. This having been accomplished, Mr. Jacob Stone, the worthy president of the congregation, <<376>> briefly and feelingly addressed the audience in the German language, reminding them that they all recollected how they had cheerfully dedicated the building in which they there met for the last time, only five years before, and how they had discovered that it had become unable to contain all who desired to resort thither, and that now they were preparing to enter a new house of God, more capacious, more durable, more beautiful, and better calculated to be a dwelling of Jacob’s God; and he dwelt then upon the motives of thankfulness which they thus had in having been permitted to accomplish so great a deed with such limited means as had been originally at their command. We observed many eyes wet with tears; for all felt the truth and force of the brief allocution of the President.

The hour of two having at length arrived, the procession was put in motion, under the supervision of Mr. M. Cone, the Chief Marshal, aided by several other gentlemen. In front walked a good band of music, followed by the boys of the congregation, walking two and two, one bearing a banner, inscribed, on one side in Hebrew and the other in English, with “And I bore you on eagles’ wings, and brought you to me,” with the date of the consecration. Then came the girls, all dressed in white, also walking two and two, the foremost bearing wreaths, and one of them a cushion, on which was laid the key of the new Synagogue. Next came a canopy, carried by four young men, under which went

the bearers of the Law books; then followed the ministers, accompanied by Dr. L. Elsner, a member of the congregation, who was to deliver a German address; after which came the officers, &c., the other members and strangers bringing up the rear. Arrived at the new building, the boys placed themselves in front in two rows, when the President stepped up and received the key from the builder. The doors were then opened, and the procession entered; when the usual ceremonies took place, the circuits were made with the Sepharim, as we have describe before this on other occasions. Mr. Henry, his sons assisting him as choir, read the prayers and chaunted the psalms in a very agreeable manner, and, we doubt not, to the satisfaction of all present.

When the Laws had been deposited for the first <<377>>time in their new receptacle, Dr. Raphall ascended the pulpit, and spoke for near an hour in his customary emphatic and eloquent manner, on the text, “And they shall make me a sanctuary, and I will dwell amongst them.” He spoke of the object and reasons for erecting places of worship, demonstrating that to us it was a duty enjoined by religion, and not a mere natural necessity, nor the desire to propitiate by a gift the divine favour; therefore there existed a necessity of so conducting ourselves, in and out of the Synagogue, as to make our appearing there acceptable in the sight of God, who otherwise would demand of us, in the words of the prophet, “Who asks this at your hands to tread my courts?” The learned divine exhorted the audience to peace and concord, that the good work that day accomplished might bring precious fruit, and conduce to their spiritual welfare.

We do not pretend to report what Dr. R. said, as our limits will not permit us even to sketch a brief outline; besides which, we had no opportunity to take any notes, and we do not like to depend entirely on memory. Mr. Henry next recited a prayer for the prosperity of the congrega­tion, when a collection was taken up; after which Dr. Elsner delivered a German address on the text, “I rejoice when they say unto me, Let us go to the house of God,” dwelling upon the last term in contradistinction to “the house of prayer,” as we devote the house to God, and it is his precincts we enter by his gracious permission. The 150th Psalm was chaunted when Dr. E. had finished; after which Mr. Henry read the evening service, assisted by his sons and the congregation, in a beautiful style; and at the conclusion of all, the numerous assembly, composed of Israelites and Christians, to such an extent as to fill the whole house without over-crowding it, left for their homes, highly gratified with what they had witnessed  and heard, and rejoicing that they had been spared to see that day.

Early next morning the people again met; and they displayed their liberality by offering nearly four hundred dollars towards the funds of the congregation; and there being then only Israelites present, we could judge more correctly of the extent of the Kahal, which consisted of upwards of one hundred adult males, <<378>> besides the ladies and children. The service extended to about two o’clock, the various Mi-Sheberach occupying a great deal of time, much more, we confess, than we thought proper; but if ever this method of collecting funds can be justified, it was excusable in this instance, in view of the peculiar position of the congregation.

At four o’clock in the afternoon, the people again met for Minchah, which we read, upon the request of the President, it being the only part we took in the exercises of the occasion, except walking in the procession. At the conclusion, Dr. Raphall again preached, from the text of Isaiah lv. 6: “Seek ye the Lord while he may be found, call upon him while he is near,” and showed how, when, and to whom, we should return, which formed the three parts of his sermon. He showed that we had hopes of pardon from the mercy of God, who himself called to us to supplicate to Him, and that we therefore needed no sacrifice, if we only truly repented, amended our course, and abominated the evil in our hands. The Doctor spoke about an hour; and we could see that he made a deep impression on the audience; and we only hope that the lesson “how to repent,” which he inculcated, may be deeply and indelibly fixed on the minds of all, in order that godliness and righteousness may abound among us.

Thus ended the consecration of the house of God at Syracuse, in which much was said and done which ought to have more than a mere evanescent effect; and we seldom, if ever, were present on an occasion so well calculated to arrest the attention of the wayfarer on the path of life, and bid him ponder not so much on his mortality as on the bright hopes of that life where an everlasting Sabbath is the portion of those who have feared the Lord.

We also learned, while at Syracuse, that the ladies had presented a white curtain for the approaching holy days, and saw a beautiful silver pointer, the gift of Mr. Isaac Garson, one of the Trustees. No doubt there were donations from other sources but we did not hear of them, as our time was but short, and this a great deal occupied.<<379>>

On Sunday, as both Dr. R, and ourself had to leave next day, a number of gentlemen of the congregation invited us, with Mr. Henry, to partake of a dinner at the house of Mr. I. Garson; at the conclusion of which the President rose, and, in an appropriate address, presented the reverend orator with a handsome fish and cream knife, as a keepsake, and kindly then referred to our services to the cause of Judaism as a publicist, and to the useful offices rendered on the occasion by Mr. Henry. We need not mention that Dr. R. was happy in his reply to the compliment, and then he referred to the occasion that had brought all together, and exhorted them to be true to themselves in their walk of life, and to confer on their children the benefits of a thorough religious education. Of course we had to say a few words; and stated that our services had been first demanded of us in defence of the personal character of Israelites which had been assailed, which gradually led us to persevere till the present time; and; in conclusion, we endeavoured to impress on those who surrounded us the duty, the necessity, of so conducting themselves as men and Israelites, that the name of Jew, the highest and noblest in its derivation, might no longer be a term of reproach, but become, what it is in its origin, expressive of all that is great, noble, and holy. We both spoke in German, our hearers being nearly all natives of the land where it is the vernacular tongue; and all admired the ready manner in which Dr. R. availed himself of the language which to him is an acquired one, through a long residence in Germany. Mr. Henry also made a suitable reply in English; after which several sentiments were offered, among which, one by Mr. Silberman, alluding to Dr. R.’s argument with the late reform minister of Charleston.

All concur in assigning a high degree of praise to Mr. Stone for the services he rendered to the people in the management of the affairs of the Kahal, and the erection of the Synagogue; and many have expressed their deep regret at his determination to retire from the Presidency, which he has held, we think, for two years; and we are sure that he will bear with him the good wishes of all in his retirement.

In the above hasty sketch, which we have prepared at the last <<380>>moment, part of our number being already printed off, is, no doubt, imperfect in many particulars, and silent of many persons who ought to be named.  We only can promise that we shall cheerfully supply any deficiency, and make any correction which may be pointed out to us. For our part, we say freely that we are rejoiced that we were at Syracuse on that occasion, and hope to witness many similar ones in other places hereafter.