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The Jewish Community of Birmingham, AL

Birmingham

A city in the state of Alabama, USA.

21ST CENTURY

As of 2012, the Jewish community of Birmingham had 5,200 members (out of a total 8,850 Jews in the state, and a total state population of 4.8 million) and 5 congregations. The Birmingham Jewish Federation has established an outreach program in order to convince young Jews to move to the city.

Community organizations include the Jewish Federation, the Birmingham Jewish Foundation, the Levite JCC, the N.E Miles Jewish Day School, and Jewish Family Services.

Since 1990 the Deep South Jewish Voice, created and edited by Larry Brook, has provided the Jews of Birmingham with Jewish news about the Deep South in general, and Birmingham in particular.

 

HISTORY
Individual Jews began settling in Birmingham in 1871, the year that the city was founded; a community eventually began to develop in 1882. Most of these early residents were German immigrants; Eastern European immigrants would subsequently arrive in large numbers. For the most part these groups tended to be segregated, and it was only during the 1920s that the Jewish community began to unite.

Temple Emanu-El was founded in 1882; Morris Newfield served as the congregation’s rabbi for 45 years (1895-1940) while also acting as a civic and cultural leader. The more traditional-minded members of Birmingham’s Jewish community founded Knesseth Israel in 1889. Shortly thereafter, in 1906, a breakaway group from Knesseth Israel formed Temple Beth-El, a Conservative synagogue.

Most of the early Jewish arrivals to Birmingham worked as merchants, and many eventually built department stores. A number made significant contributions to Birmingham’s economic life, particularly the Steiner brothers, who founded Steiner Bank which kept the city from going bankrupt during the 1893 panic.

Birmingham’s Jews were subject to antisemitism, particularly, though not exclusively, during the 1920s. Beginning in the late 19th century the community established a number of social clubs after being barred from joining local country clubs. Hillcrest was established in 1883 by and for German Jews, while Fairmont was established in 1920 by and for Jews from Eastern Europe; these clubs would eventually merge to form the Pinetree Country Club in 1969. The Ku Klux Klan regained prominence during the 1920s, leading to a significant rise in antisemitism. In 1958 a bomb was discovered outside of Temple Beth-El; it contained enough dynamite to level the entire block, but experienced a technical malfunction before it detonated. Additionally, as the Civil Rights Movement developed during the 1960s many Jews were threatened by white supremacists.


The Young Men’s Hebrew Association (YMHA) was established in 1906, and eventually developed into the Jewish Community Center. The Birmingham Jewish Federation was organized in 1970 and acted as an umbrella organization for a number of previously distinct charitable organizations. The Birmingham Jewish Foundation, Jewish Family Services, and the N.E Miles Jewish Day School were all established in 1973. Other social organizations included B’nai B’rith, the National Council of Jewish Women, Haddasah, and the Bureau of Jewish Women.

In 1967 there were 4,100 Jews in Birmingham. By the mid-1990s that number had grown to approximately 5,200 (out of approximately 8,000 Jews living in the State of Alabama as a whole). Additionally, during the 1990s the Jewish community of Birmingham welcomed nearly 200 Jews from the former Soviet Union who immigrated to the United States.

Notable figures from Birmingham’s Jewish community include Representative Ben Erdreich, who served in the United States Congress.

 

Place Type:
City
ID Number:
132771
Written by researchers of ANU Museum of the Jewish People
Nearby places:

Related items:

United States of America (USA)

A country in North America

Estimated Jewish population in 2018: 5,700,000 out of 325,000,000 (1.7%). United States is the home of the second largest Jewish population in the world. 

Community life is organized in more than 2,000 organizations and 700 federations. Each of the main religious denominators – Orthodox, Conservative, Reform, and Reconstructionist – has its own national association of synagogues and rabbis. 

American cities (greater area) with largest Jewish populations in 2018:

New York City, NY: 2,000,000
Los Angeles, CA: 662,000
Miami, FL: 555,000
Philadelphia, PA: 275,000
Chicago, IL: 294,000
Boston, MA: 250,000
San Francisco, CA: 304,000
Washington, DC & Baltimore, MY: 217,000

States with largest proportion of Jewish population in 2018 (Percentage of Total Population):

New York: 8.9
New Jersey: 5.8
Florida: 3.3
District of Columbia: 4.3
Massachusetts: 4.1
Maryland: 4
Connecticut: 3.3
California: 3.2
Pennsylvania: 2.3
Illinois: 2.3

Montgomery

The capital of the state of Alabama, USA.

21ST CENTURY

Agudath Israel and Etz Ahayem merged in 2001 to form Agudath Israel Etz Ahayem. New synagogue bylaws were written in order to integrate both Sephardic and Ashkenazi customs and rituals into the new combined congregation. Agudath Israel Etz Ahayem is affiliated with the Conservative movement, while Temple Beth Or has continued to serve Montgomery’s Reform community. Together, both congregations run the Kol Ami Religious School.

In 2001 there were approximately 1,200 Jews living in Montgomery.  

 

HISTORY

Abraham Mordecai, who arrived in 1785 from Pennsylvania, was the first Jewish person to settle in Montgomery. When he met the Creek and Chickasaw people who were native to the area, Mordecai believed that he had discovered a Lost Tribe of Israel. He subsequently lived with the Creek, Chickasaw, and Coosawda for almost 20 years, learning their language and culture and often acting as an intermediary between the Native American tribes and white settlers. Eventually he also married a Creek woman, earning him the nickname “the Little Chief.” Among his numerous trade achievements, Mordecai was also notable for bringing the first cotton gin to Alabama.

Montgomery was designated as the capital of Alabama in 1846, and quickly became a major business center. This attracted a number of immigrants to the city, including Jews from Bavaria. Among the group of Bavarian immigrants was Henry Lehman, who arrived in 1844 and established a general store. Henry Lehman eventually sent for his brother Emanuel, who arrived in 1847, and Mayer, who arrived in 1848. Together they worked out a system in which they traded the goods in their store for the cotton grown by their farmer customers. Under this system, the Lehman Brothers general store eventually became a cotton brokerage firm…which eventually grew into the Wall Street financial firm Lehman Brothers.

With the growth of the Jewish population came the increasing need for the establishment of Jewish institutions. Chevra Mevacher Cholim, an organization dedicated to caring for the sick and preparing the dead for burial, was founded in 1846. Montgomery’s first congregation, Kahl Montgomery, was established in 1849, and attracted Jews living in nearby areas. The congregation first met in private homes and then in rented rooms. When Judah Touro, a philanthropist from New Orleans, passed away in 1858, Kahl Montgomery was among the congregations who were bequeathed a substantial donation ($2,000), which allowed them to construct their own building; the synagogue was eventually dedicated in 1862, a year after the outbreak of the Civil War (1861-1865).

Montgomery suffered economically during the war, including food shortages and a steep increase in the cost of living. Most of the city’s Jews supported the Confederacy; indeed, Kahl Montgomery’s first full-time rabbi, James K. Gutheim, arrived from New Orleans after the city was captured by the Union Army and he refused to pledge his allegiance to the Union.

In spite of the toll that the war took on Montgomery, the city recovered relatively quickly after the war and even experienced an economic boom during the 1870s and ‘80s. During this period a number of members of the Jewish community rose to levels of prominence. Mordecai Moses served as Montgomery’s first postwar Democratic mayor in 1875. His brother, Alfred Moses, founded the town of Sheffield, where he also served as mayor in 1886. Together the two brother founded the Sheffield Land, Iron, and Coal Company.

Montgomery’s economic boom, as well as the arrival of a number of immigrants from Eastern Europe, increased the local Jewish population. As a result, Kahl Montgomery’s membership continued to grow, and the congregation went through a series of ideological changes that led to its increased affiliation with the Reform movement. These ritual changes culminated in the decision to change the congregation’s name, in order to reflect the changes in ritual; Kahl Montgomery became Temple Beth Or in 1874, and Beth Or officially joined the Reform movement’s Union of American Hebrew Congregations in 1879. The synagogue also established a Sunday school, which enrolled 112 students. In 1902 a new synagogue building was completed that could accommodate the growing membership.

However, some members of Beth Or, particularly the Eastern European immigrants, wanted a more traditional liturgy and observance. In 1902 they established a new congregation, Agudath Israel; its founders drafted the congregation’s first constitution in Yiddish, and services were in Hebrew and Yiddish (in contrast to Beth Or, which incorporated a significant amount of English into its liturgy). In 1914 the congregation purchased a synagogue building.

Until the turn of the 20th century the two major Jewish groups in Montgomery were German Jews and Eastern European Jews, both of whom were Ashkenazi Jews. Beginning in 1906, however, Sephardic Jews, particularly from Rhodes, began arriving in Montgomery, drawn by the economic opportunities that the city offered. The first Sephardic Jew to settle in Montgomery was Ralph Nace Cohen, who came from Rhodes. He was eventually followed by other Jews from Rhodes, and then by Jews from the rest of Greece and Turkey. Montgomery’s first Sephardic services took place during the High Holidays in 1908. In 1912 this group established a formal congregation, Etz Ahayem, and wrote their constitution in Ladino. By 1918 Etz Ahayem had grown enough that the congregation began construction on a synagogue building, which was completed in 1927.

Tensions existed between the Ashkenazi and Sephardi communities, stemming from differences in both religious customs and their socioeconomic backgrounds; members of Beth Or, in particular, tended to be well-established in Montgomery and many had achieved positions of power and prominence. Meanwhile the Sephardim were new immigrants, and therefore tended to be less prosperous and prominent. Beth Or’s social club, the Standard Club, refused to admit most Sephardim (members of Agudath Israel, who were also Ashkenazi, tended to steer clear of the Standard Club and preferred institutions with a more overtly Jewish character).

Both the Ashkenazi and Sephardi communities were deeply affected by World War II (1939-1945) and the Holocaust. A large number of Beth Or members served in the United States armed forces, while the Jewish community as a whole worked to support Jewish soldiers stationed at the nearby Maxwell Air Force Base. Etz Ahayem, which retained close ties to the Jewish community of Rhodes, where many members still had family, was devastated by the Holocaust; after the 1943 occupation of Rhodes by the Germans 1,673 Jews were deported to Auschwitz. Almost all of the members of Etz Ahayem lost family members. The congregation Kal Grande in Rhodes managed to bury their Torah scrolls before the deportations. After the war these scrolls were sent to Israel; from there one was sent to Etz Ahayem.

A number of changes took place during the 1950s, indicating the extent to which members of Montgomery’s Jewish community became increasingly Americanized. Prayers in Etz Ahayem, which had previously been conducted in Hebrew and Ladino, began to incorporate increasing amounts of English. Meanwhile, Agudath Israel began to increasingly affiliate with the Conservative movement. Additionally, during the late ‘50s and early ‘60s Beth Or, Agudath Israel, and Etz Ahayem transferred locations, reflecting the movement of Montgomery’s Jews.

During the Civil Rights Era (1954-1968) Montgomery’s Jews experienced a surge in antisemitism, spurred by the belief that Jews (and communists) were responsible for the increasing challenges to segregation and Jim Crow laws. While most of Montgomery’s Jews chose to remain publicly silent on the issue, not wanting to jeopardize their positions, a number spoke out in favor of civil rights. While the board of trustees of Beth Or sent the Union of American Hebrew Congregations an angry letter in response to the UAHC’s endorsement of the Montgomery bus boycott (1955-1956), Etz Ahayem’s rabbi, Solomon Acrish, spoke out publically in support of the boycott and against segregation. Those who spoke out publicly against segregation, however, often paid a price. Rabbi Acrish became less public in his support for desegregation after he was shunned socially and Etz Ahayem received a bomb threat. Agudath Israel’s rabbi, Seymour Atlas, who had befriended Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in 1955, also spoke out in support of civil rights. However, after his outspoken support for the bus boycott, his contract was not renewed and he and his wife left Montgomery in 1956.

In 1976, in celebration both of the United States Bicentennial and over 200 years of Jewish history in Montgomery, Beth Or, Agudath Israel, and Etz Ahayem presented the state of Alabama with a Torah scroll that had been used by the state’s Jews under 18th century French rule. This Torah scroll has remained on display in the state capital into the 21st century.

Rabbi Cynthia Culpepper became the first full-time rabbi to serve in Alabama when she was hired by Agudath Israel in 1995.

 

Anniston

A city and seat of Calhoun County in Alabama, United States

The Jewish community was established after Leon Ullman, a merchant from Talladega, Alabama, moved his business to Anniston. In 1884, along with his brothers, Leopold, August, Abe, and Solomon, he opened Ullman Brothers on Noble Street, the main street of the city. They were followed by other German Jews who identified the business opportunities the developing town offered during the second half of the 19th century, particularly after Anniston was connected to the railroad network in 1883. Joseph Saks, Adolph Adler, and Anselm Sterne and other Jews soon operated thriving businesses.

In 1888 the growing number of Jews in Anniston enabled the establishment of a congregation. Henrietta Sterne, the wife of Anselm Sterne, who came from Albany, GA, where she ran the local Jewish school, opened a similar one in Anniston in 1889. Anselm and Henrietta Sterne, influential members of the congregation, were instrumental in establishing The Ladies Hebrew Benevolent Society, a charitable organization that was open in 1890 with Henrietta Sterne as its first president. She held this position until her death in 1915.

During the first years of Jewish settlement in Anniston the prayers were conducted in private homes or halls. The Ladies Hebrew Benevolent Society led the efforts for the opening of a synagogue in Anniston. In 1891 the land at the corner of Quintard Avenue and Thirteenth Street was purchased, and two years later, on December 8, 1893, Beth El temple was officially inaugurated in the presence of Rabbi Max Heller, the distinguished Reform Jewish rabbi from New Orleans. Upon his return to Louisiana, Rabbi Heller sent the congregation a Bible, which still rests on the bimah, and the Ladies Hebrew Benevolent Society sent the rabbi’s wife a piece of their “fancy work.”

The women’s charitable association continued to gather the funds that ultimately allowed for the furbishing of the temple and its maintenance. In 1907 the temple was presented to the congregation. Beth El of Anniston is the oldest building in Alabama continuously and currently being used for Jewish worship.

Leon Ullman served as the first leader of the congregation. He was followed by Joseph Saks and Anselm Sterne. Joseph Saks, for whom the community of Saks just outside the city of Anniston was named, served as president for more than two decades. In 1900 Anselm Sterne arranged for a student rabbi from the Hebrew Union College to officiate at High Holy Days services. Student rabbis were employed for most of the next eight decades, leading only the High Holy Days services. Only in mid-1950s a student rabbi also began to visit the congregation once and then twice a month. Rabbis from out of town performed at weddings, funerals, confirmations, and bar mitzvah ceremonies.

Harry Shiretzki, the Jewish police chief of Anniston, was murdered by the owner of an illegal moonshining operation during a raid on the business in 1924.

Before and after WW II, a number of Jewish refugees and then Holocaust survivors settled in Anniston.

Given the Jewish support to the Civil Rights movement of the late 1950s and early 1960s, the Jews of Anniston were occasionally threatened by white supremacist groups like the Ku Klux Klan.

Over the years the congregation has grown as new members moved into the community and congregants married and downturns in its membership as older congregants have passed away and their children have moved to communities with more economic and social opportunities.

The building of the temple was enlarged with the additions of a community room, religious classrooms, and a library. In 1985, Temple Beth-El, a building in the Romanesque Revival style, was included in the National Register of Historic Places (NRHP) – The United States federal government’s official list of buildings of historical significance.  

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The Jewish Community of Birmingham, AL

Birmingham

A city in the state of Alabama, USA.

21ST CENTURY

As of 2012, the Jewish community of Birmingham had 5,200 members (out of a total 8,850 Jews in the state, and a total state population of 4.8 million) and 5 congregations. The Birmingham Jewish Federation has established an outreach program in order to convince young Jews to move to the city.

Community organizations include the Jewish Federation, the Birmingham Jewish Foundation, the Levite JCC, the N.E Miles Jewish Day School, and Jewish Family Services.

Since 1990 the Deep South Jewish Voice, created and edited by Larry Brook, has provided the Jews of Birmingham with Jewish news about the Deep South in general, and Birmingham in particular.

 

HISTORY
Individual Jews began settling in Birmingham in 1871, the year that the city was founded; a community eventually began to develop in 1882. Most of these early residents were German immigrants; Eastern European immigrants would subsequently arrive in large numbers. For the most part these groups tended to be segregated, and it was only during the 1920s that the Jewish community began to unite.

Temple Emanu-El was founded in 1882; Morris Newfield served as the congregation’s rabbi for 45 years (1895-1940) while also acting as a civic and cultural leader. The more traditional-minded members of Birmingham’s Jewish community founded Knesseth Israel in 1889. Shortly thereafter, in 1906, a breakaway group from Knesseth Israel formed Temple Beth-El, a Conservative synagogue.

Most of the early Jewish arrivals to Birmingham worked as merchants, and many eventually built department stores. A number made significant contributions to Birmingham’s economic life, particularly the Steiner brothers, who founded Steiner Bank which kept the city from going bankrupt during the 1893 panic.

Birmingham’s Jews were subject to antisemitism, particularly, though not exclusively, during the 1920s. Beginning in the late 19th century the community established a number of social clubs after being barred from joining local country clubs. Hillcrest was established in 1883 by and for German Jews, while Fairmont was established in 1920 by and for Jews from Eastern Europe; these clubs would eventually merge to form the Pinetree Country Club in 1969. The Ku Klux Klan regained prominence during the 1920s, leading to a significant rise in antisemitism. In 1958 a bomb was discovered outside of Temple Beth-El; it contained enough dynamite to level the entire block, but experienced a technical malfunction before it detonated. Additionally, as the Civil Rights Movement developed during the 1960s many Jews were threatened by white supremacists.


The Young Men’s Hebrew Association (YMHA) was established in 1906, and eventually developed into the Jewish Community Center. The Birmingham Jewish Federation was organized in 1970 and acted as an umbrella organization for a number of previously distinct charitable organizations. The Birmingham Jewish Foundation, Jewish Family Services, and the N.E Miles Jewish Day School were all established in 1973. Other social organizations included B’nai B’rith, the National Council of Jewish Women, Haddasah, and the Bureau of Jewish Women.

In 1967 there were 4,100 Jews in Birmingham. By the mid-1990s that number had grown to approximately 5,200 (out of approximately 8,000 Jews living in the State of Alabama as a whole). Additionally, during the 1990s the Jewish community of Birmingham welcomed nearly 200 Jews from the former Soviet Union who immigrated to the United States.

Notable figures from Birmingham’s Jewish community include Representative Ben Erdreich, who served in the United States Congress.

 

Written by researchers of ANU Museum of the Jewish People

United States of America (USA)

United States of America (USA)

A country in North America

Estimated Jewish population in 2018: 5,700,000 out of 325,000,000 (1.7%). United States is the home of the second largest Jewish population in the world. 

Community life is organized in more than 2,000 organizations and 700 federations. Each of the main religious denominators – Orthodox, Conservative, Reform, and Reconstructionist – has its own national association of synagogues and rabbis. 

American cities (greater area) with largest Jewish populations in 2018:

New York City, NY: 2,000,000
Los Angeles, CA: 662,000
Miami, FL: 555,000
Philadelphia, PA: 275,000
Chicago, IL: 294,000
Boston, MA: 250,000
San Francisco, CA: 304,000
Washington, DC & Baltimore, MY: 217,000

States with largest proportion of Jewish population in 2018 (Percentage of Total Population):

New York: 8.9
New Jersey: 5.8
Florida: 3.3
District of Columbia: 4.3
Massachusetts: 4.1
Maryland: 4
Connecticut: 3.3
California: 3.2
Pennsylvania: 2.3
Illinois: 2.3

Montgomery, AL

Montgomery

The capital of the state of Alabama, USA.

21ST CENTURY

Agudath Israel and Etz Ahayem merged in 2001 to form Agudath Israel Etz Ahayem. New synagogue bylaws were written in order to integrate both Sephardic and Ashkenazi customs and rituals into the new combined congregation. Agudath Israel Etz Ahayem is affiliated with the Conservative movement, while Temple Beth Or has continued to serve Montgomery’s Reform community. Together, both congregations run the Kol Ami Religious School.

In 2001 there were approximately 1,200 Jews living in Montgomery.  

 

HISTORY

Abraham Mordecai, who arrived in 1785 from Pennsylvania, was the first Jewish person to settle in Montgomery. When he met the Creek and Chickasaw people who were native to the area, Mordecai believed that he had discovered a Lost Tribe of Israel. He subsequently lived with the Creek, Chickasaw, and Coosawda for almost 20 years, learning their language and culture and often acting as an intermediary between the Native American tribes and white settlers. Eventually he also married a Creek woman, earning him the nickname “the Little Chief.” Among his numerous trade achievements, Mordecai was also notable for bringing the first cotton gin to Alabama.

Montgomery was designated as the capital of Alabama in 1846, and quickly became a major business center. This attracted a number of immigrants to the city, including Jews from Bavaria. Among the group of Bavarian immigrants was Henry Lehman, who arrived in 1844 and established a general store. Henry Lehman eventually sent for his brother Emanuel, who arrived in 1847, and Mayer, who arrived in 1848. Together they worked out a system in which they traded the goods in their store for the cotton grown by their farmer customers. Under this system, the Lehman Brothers general store eventually became a cotton brokerage firm…which eventually grew into the Wall Street financial firm Lehman Brothers.

With the growth of the Jewish population came the increasing need for the establishment of Jewish institutions. Chevra Mevacher Cholim, an organization dedicated to caring for the sick and preparing the dead for burial, was founded in 1846. Montgomery’s first congregation, Kahl Montgomery, was established in 1849, and attracted Jews living in nearby areas. The congregation first met in private homes and then in rented rooms. When Judah Touro, a philanthropist from New Orleans, passed away in 1858, Kahl Montgomery was among the congregations who were bequeathed a substantial donation ($2,000), which allowed them to construct their own building; the synagogue was eventually dedicated in 1862, a year after the outbreak of the Civil War (1861-1865).

Montgomery suffered economically during the war, including food shortages and a steep increase in the cost of living. Most of the city’s Jews supported the Confederacy; indeed, Kahl Montgomery’s first full-time rabbi, James K. Gutheim, arrived from New Orleans after the city was captured by the Union Army and he refused to pledge his allegiance to the Union.

In spite of the toll that the war took on Montgomery, the city recovered relatively quickly after the war and even experienced an economic boom during the 1870s and ‘80s. During this period a number of members of the Jewish community rose to levels of prominence. Mordecai Moses served as Montgomery’s first postwar Democratic mayor in 1875. His brother, Alfred Moses, founded the town of Sheffield, where he also served as mayor in 1886. Together the two brother founded the Sheffield Land, Iron, and Coal Company.

Montgomery’s economic boom, as well as the arrival of a number of immigrants from Eastern Europe, increased the local Jewish population. As a result, Kahl Montgomery’s membership continued to grow, and the congregation went through a series of ideological changes that led to its increased affiliation with the Reform movement. These ritual changes culminated in the decision to change the congregation’s name, in order to reflect the changes in ritual; Kahl Montgomery became Temple Beth Or in 1874, and Beth Or officially joined the Reform movement’s Union of American Hebrew Congregations in 1879. The synagogue also established a Sunday school, which enrolled 112 students. In 1902 a new synagogue building was completed that could accommodate the growing membership.

However, some members of Beth Or, particularly the Eastern European immigrants, wanted a more traditional liturgy and observance. In 1902 they established a new congregation, Agudath Israel; its founders drafted the congregation’s first constitution in Yiddish, and services were in Hebrew and Yiddish (in contrast to Beth Or, which incorporated a significant amount of English into its liturgy). In 1914 the congregation purchased a synagogue building.

Until the turn of the 20th century the two major Jewish groups in Montgomery were German Jews and Eastern European Jews, both of whom were Ashkenazi Jews. Beginning in 1906, however, Sephardic Jews, particularly from Rhodes, began arriving in Montgomery, drawn by the economic opportunities that the city offered. The first Sephardic Jew to settle in Montgomery was Ralph Nace Cohen, who came from Rhodes. He was eventually followed by other Jews from Rhodes, and then by Jews from the rest of Greece and Turkey. Montgomery’s first Sephardic services took place during the High Holidays in 1908. In 1912 this group established a formal congregation, Etz Ahayem, and wrote their constitution in Ladino. By 1918 Etz Ahayem had grown enough that the congregation began construction on a synagogue building, which was completed in 1927.

Tensions existed between the Ashkenazi and Sephardi communities, stemming from differences in both religious customs and their socioeconomic backgrounds; members of Beth Or, in particular, tended to be well-established in Montgomery and many had achieved positions of power and prominence. Meanwhile the Sephardim were new immigrants, and therefore tended to be less prosperous and prominent. Beth Or’s social club, the Standard Club, refused to admit most Sephardim (members of Agudath Israel, who were also Ashkenazi, tended to steer clear of the Standard Club and preferred institutions with a more overtly Jewish character).

Both the Ashkenazi and Sephardi communities were deeply affected by World War II (1939-1945) and the Holocaust. A large number of Beth Or members served in the United States armed forces, while the Jewish community as a whole worked to support Jewish soldiers stationed at the nearby Maxwell Air Force Base. Etz Ahayem, which retained close ties to the Jewish community of Rhodes, where many members still had family, was devastated by the Holocaust; after the 1943 occupation of Rhodes by the Germans 1,673 Jews were deported to Auschwitz. Almost all of the members of Etz Ahayem lost family members. The congregation Kal Grande in Rhodes managed to bury their Torah scrolls before the deportations. After the war these scrolls were sent to Israel; from there one was sent to Etz Ahayem.

A number of changes took place during the 1950s, indicating the extent to which members of Montgomery’s Jewish community became increasingly Americanized. Prayers in Etz Ahayem, which had previously been conducted in Hebrew and Ladino, began to incorporate increasing amounts of English. Meanwhile, Agudath Israel began to increasingly affiliate with the Conservative movement. Additionally, during the late ‘50s and early ‘60s Beth Or, Agudath Israel, and Etz Ahayem transferred locations, reflecting the movement of Montgomery’s Jews.

During the Civil Rights Era (1954-1968) Montgomery’s Jews experienced a surge in antisemitism, spurred by the belief that Jews (and communists) were responsible for the increasing challenges to segregation and Jim Crow laws. While most of Montgomery’s Jews chose to remain publicly silent on the issue, not wanting to jeopardize their positions, a number spoke out in favor of civil rights. While the board of trustees of Beth Or sent the Union of American Hebrew Congregations an angry letter in response to the UAHC’s endorsement of the Montgomery bus boycott (1955-1956), Etz Ahayem’s rabbi, Solomon Acrish, spoke out publically in support of the boycott and against segregation. Those who spoke out publicly against segregation, however, often paid a price. Rabbi Acrish became less public in his support for desegregation after he was shunned socially and Etz Ahayem received a bomb threat. Agudath Israel’s rabbi, Seymour Atlas, who had befriended Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in 1955, also spoke out in support of civil rights. However, after his outspoken support for the bus boycott, his contract was not renewed and he and his wife left Montgomery in 1956.

In 1976, in celebration both of the United States Bicentennial and over 200 years of Jewish history in Montgomery, Beth Or, Agudath Israel, and Etz Ahayem presented the state of Alabama with a Torah scroll that had been used by the state’s Jews under 18th century French rule. This Torah scroll has remained on display in the state capital into the 21st century.

Rabbi Cynthia Culpepper became the first full-time rabbi to serve in Alabama when she was hired by Agudath Israel in 1995.

 

Anniston, AL

Anniston

A city and seat of Calhoun County in Alabama, United States

The Jewish community was established after Leon Ullman, a merchant from Talladega, Alabama, moved his business to Anniston. In 1884, along with his brothers, Leopold, August, Abe, and Solomon, he opened Ullman Brothers on Noble Street, the main street of the city. They were followed by other German Jews who identified the business opportunities the developing town offered during the second half of the 19th century, particularly after Anniston was connected to the railroad network in 1883. Joseph Saks, Adolph Adler, and Anselm Sterne and other Jews soon operated thriving businesses.

In 1888 the growing number of Jews in Anniston enabled the establishment of a congregation. Henrietta Sterne, the wife of Anselm Sterne, who came from Albany, GA, where she ran the local Jewish school, opened a similar one in Anniston in 1889. Anselm and Henrietta Sterne, influential members of the congregation, were instrumental in establishing The Ladies Hebrew Benevolent Society, a charitable organization that was open in 1890 with Henrietta Sterne as its first president. She held this position until her death in 1915.

During the first years of Jewish settlement in Anniston the prayers were conducted in private homes or halls. The Ladies Hebrew Benevolent Society led the efforts for the opening of a synagogue in Anniston. In 1891 the land at the corner of Quintard Avenue and Thirteenth Street was purchased, and two years later, on December 8, 1893, Beth El temple was officially inaugurated in the presence of Rabbi Max Heller, the distinguished Reform Jewish rabbi from New Orleans. Upon his return to Louisiana, Rabbi Heller sent the congregation a Bible, which still rests on the bimah, and the Ladies Hebrew Benevolent Society sent the rabbi’s wife a piece of their “fancy work.”

The women’s charitable association continued to gather the funds that ultimately allowed for the furbishing of the temple and its maintenance. In 1907 the temple was presented to the congregation. Beth El of Anniston is the oldest building in Alabama continuously and currently being used for Jewish worship.

Leon Ullman served as the first leader of the congregation. He was followed by Joseph Saks and Anselm Sterne. Joseph Saks, for whom the community of Saks just outside the city of Anniston was named, served as president for more than two decades. In 1900 Anselm Sterne arranged for a student rabbi from the Hebrew Union College to officiate at High Holy Days services. Student rabbis were employed for most of the next eight decades, leading only the High Holy Days services. Only in mid-1950s a student rabbi also began to visit the congregation once and then twice a month. Rabbis from out of town performed at weddings, funerals, confirmations, and bar mitzvah ceremonies.

Harry Shiretzki, the Jewish police chief of Anniston, was murdered by the owner of an illegal moonshining operation during a raid on the business in 1924.

Before and after WW II, a number of Jewish refugees and then Holocaust survivors settled in Anniston.

Given the Jewish support to the Civil Rights movement of the late 1950s and early 1960s, the Jews of Anniston were occasionally threatened by white supremacist groups like the Ku Klux Klan.

Over the years the congregation has grown as new members moved into the community and congregants married and downturns in its membership as older congregants have passed away and their children have moved to communities with more economic and social opportunities.

The building of the temple was enlarged with the additions of a community room, religious classrooms, and a library. In 1985, Temple Beth-El, a building in the Romanesque Revival style, was included in the National Register of Historic Places (NRHP) – The United States federal government’s official list of buildings of historical significance.