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The Jewish Community of Atlanta

Atlanta

Capital of the State of Georgia, USA.

As of 2010, Atlanta's Jewish population was estimated at 120,000, making it the ninth largest Jewish community in the United States, in spite of the fact that its Jewish community is relatively young. According to the 2006 population study conducted by Jacob Ukeles and Ron Miller for the Jewish Federation of Greater Atlanta, children under age 18 comprise as much as 25 percent of the community, while Jews aged 65 and over represent only 12 percent. The vast majority (81 percent) of Atlanta's Jewish residents were born outside the state of Georgia. Of this group, approximately 30% are transfers from New York and New Jersey and about 6% were born in the former Soviet Union. While Atlanta's Jewish population is predominantly Ashkenazi, its Sephardi community is one of the largest in the country.

Nearly every national Jewish organization has a branch in Atlanta. There are numerous institutions serving the Jewish community's social, educational, and cultural needs. More than 60 different agencies are partnered with the Federation of Greater Atlanta, the community's principal welfare organization. With a $125 million endowment, the Federation is also one of the largest sources of funding for Jewish programs.


In addition to being the state's capital, the city of Atlanta serves as the country's southeastern headquarters for several major organizations, including the American Jewish Committee, B'nai B'rith, the Anti-Defamation League, the Council of Jewish Federation and Welfare Funds, and the National Welfare Board. Atlanta is also one of 10 locations in the United States with an Israeli consulate general.


Atlanta has a variety of kosher restaurants and food options, as well as its own kashrut commission, the AKC (Atlanta Kashrut Commission), an agency which certifies over 100 companies, supermarkets, restaurants, and food manufacturers in Atlanta and throughout the United States. By 2015 there were 24 kosher establishments in the Greater Atlanta area, including bakeries, butcher shops, catering companies, and restaurants. There are also several grocery stores which carry kosher food products.


By 2005, there were 34 synagogues in Greater Atlanta, an increase from the 19 that existed in 1984. Nonetheless, the vast majority of the Jewish community is unaffiliated; 42% of Atlanta's Jews belong to a synagogue or Jewish organization –one of the lowest rates in the United States. Among those affiliated with a congregation or connected to the Jewish community, 46% identify as Reform, 26% as Conservative, and 9% as Orthodox. The Chabad-Lubavitch movement has established a presence in Atlanta, and has made efforts to reach out to the more than 70,000 unaffiliated Jews in the community.


Several Atlanta neighborhoods have their own eruv, including Toco Hills, Sandy Springs, Dunwoody, and Alpharetta in the north metro area. There are also five congregations that have their own mikvah. In 2015, Congregation B'nai Torah opened a new mikvah facility which is used both by many in the community, as well as by people from other Jewish communities.


The Jewish community of Atlanta has established many educational programs and institutions for Jewish youth. The Marcus Jewish Community Center of Atlanta (MJCCA) offers a variety of programs, as do many of the community's congregations. Jewish education is also often part of many of the community's social and cultural associations; there are more than 15 after-school programs and summer camps.


Jewish schools in Atlanta range from Orthodox to Reform. There are seven preschools, five day schools, and four high schools. One of these high schools is Atlanta Jewish Academy, the result of a 2014 merger of Greenfield Hebrew Academy (GHA), and Yeshiva Atlanta (YA), the oldest Jewish day schools in Atlanta. Other notable Jewish schools include the Torah Day School of Atlanta, the Davis Academy, the Solomon Schechter School of Atlanta, the Doris and Alex Weber Jewish Community High School, and Temima High School, an Orthodox girls' school.


The Jews of Atlanta are widely spread out over the city. Many have moved to the northern, southern, and eastern parts of the city. But while there is no predominantly Jewish neighborhood, there are several areas with a significant number of Jewish residents. Dunwoody, East Cobb, Sandy Springs, Alpharetta and Toco Hills have sizeable Jewish communities. The city's downtown area has become a hub for young Jewish professionals, as well as for young families. In order to keep the community socially and culturally connected, many Jewish institutions and agencies have opened branches in the suburbs.


Many in Atlanta's Jewish community have been recognized for their philanthropic endeavors. Several community projects have been developed under Jewish leadership and with significant donations made by Jewish entrepreneurs. Individuals such as Arthur Blank and Bernard Marcus, the founders of Home Depot, are well-known for their philanthropy as well as for their business activity.


There are multiple sites of Jewish historical significance in Atlanta. The William Breman Jewish Museum provides a history of Atlanta's Jewish community, and offers permanent exhibits dedicated to the Holocaust. Other important sites include memorials commemorating the Holocaust and the events of World War II. Located in the Greenwood Cemetery is a large granite monument, featuring six torches, each one representing one million Jews who perished in the Holocaust. The memorial was placed there by the Eternal-Life Hemshech organization, which was formed in 1964 by Holocaust survivors living in Atlanta. In 2008, the memorial was listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Also located in Greenwood Cemetery is a memorial to Jewish war veterans. The Jewish Community Center's Zaban Park is home to the Besser Holocaust Memorial Garden. Each year the garden hosts ceremonies commemorating the Holocaust and Kristallnacht.


The primary Jewish publication in the city is the Atlanta Jewish Times (AJT), originally known as the Southern Israelite. Distributed for free, it serves the Jewish community of Atlanta and adjacent areas. Before World War II, there were three English-language Jewish newspapers, as well as a Yiddish newspaper.


HISTORY

German Jews lived in the area, an important transportation center, beginning in the early 1840s. The first known Jew to live in Atlanta was Jacob Haas, who opened a dry goods store with Henry Levi in 1846. Moses Sternberger, Adolph Brady, and David Mayer arrived in the city shortly thereafter, as did Aaron Alexander and his family, who were American-born Sephardim from South Carolina. Atlanta's first Jews were mostly merchants. Some were involved in financial services such as banking, brokerage firms, insurance, and real estate. Others manufactured paper products and cotton bagging.

The Hebrew Benevolent Society, established in 1860, later became the Hebrew Benevolent Congregation in 1867. Still later it was known simply as "The Temple." The Temple was Reform; its first rabbi, Rabbi Dr. David Burgheim, was appointed in 1869, and the building housing the congregation was erected in 1877. Eastern Europeans who emigrated to Atlanta in the 1880s established an Orthodox congregation, Ahavath Achim, in 1887 and built a building for the synagogue in 1901. There were three more Orthodox congregations by 1910, and Sephardim from Rhodes founded a congregation in 1914.

Since the post-Civil War era Jews have been active in Atlanta politics. Samuel Weil served in the Georgia Legislature in 1869, Aaron Haas became the city's mayor pro term in 1875, and Sam Massell was elected mayor in 1970. David Mayer, the founding member of the Board of Education, is remembered as the "father of public schools." Jews are also among the founders of the city's hospital, library, chamber of commerce, and other public institutions. Rabbi Dr. David Marx, the rabbi of The Temple for 51 years, was known for his interfaith leadership; his successor, Rabbi Dr. Jacob M. Rothschild, is known for his efforts advocating for racial equality. Rabbi Tobias Geffen was an Orthodox rabbi who was a major figure within the community for the fifty years he served there. Among his more notable actions was giving a hekhsher (kosher certification) to Coca-Cola, an Atlanta-based company.

While the elite Jews of Atlanta had assimilated into the city to an unusual degree, they nonetheless felt detached from the rest of Atlanta society. They began to feel truly threatened by anti-Semitism during the Leo Frank case of 1913-1915. Frank, a respected member of the community, was convicted of the murder of a 13 year old girl and sentenced to hang. When his sentence was commuted to life imprisonment by Governor John Slaton, who was deeply skeptical of the conviction, a mob kidnapped Frank from prison and lynched him. Frank's trial and lynching had a deep impact on the Jewish community, many of whom tried to hide their Jewishness or moved out of the city altogether. Leo Frank's case was also mentioned in the announcement of the creation of the Anti-Defamation League in 1913. Most historians conclude that Frank was innocent, and The Georgia State Board of Pardons and Paroles officially pardoned Frank posthumously in 1986.

1958 saw another outbreak of violence against the Jewish community when The Temple was bombed by white supremacists, who were angered by The Temple's support for civil rights.

Jewish communal institutions entered a peak period of development during the turn of the 20th century. The early 20th century saw the establishment of institutions including: a Jewish Community Center, the Bureau of Jewish Education, Hebrew day schools, a home for the elderly, and "The Southern Israelite."

The Jewish community in Atlanta numbered approximately 28,000 in 1980; by 2006 it had grown to over 120,000.

Place Type:
City
ID Number:
195823
Written by researchers of ANU Museum of the Jewish People
Nearby places:

Related items:
Geffen, Tobias (1870-1970), rabbi, born in Kovno, Lithuania (then part of the Russian Empire). He studied under Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Spektor and then in the Yeshiva of Slovodka. In 1903 he immigrated to the USA and was appointed rabbi of Ahavat Zedek congregation in New York City. Four years later he moved to a small community in Ohio and then in 1910 he became rabbi of Congregation Shearith Israel, Atlanta, Georgia. He remained in this position until the end of his life.

Geffen became widely known for his decision in 1935 to certify Coca-Cola as kosher. Geffen published eight books, written in Yiddish, of responsa, sermons and Talmudic dissertations. He was the leader of the Southern division of the Union of Orthodox Rabbis.

Jewish Orphanage in Atlanta, Georgia, USA
Postcard, 1910s
The Oster Visual Documentation Center, courtesy of the Gross Family Collection, Tel Aviv

"Let Them Go", a demonstration for Soviet Jews,
Atlanta, Georgia, USA,1970.
Photo: Gerald Charles Lasensky, USA
(The Oster Visual Documentation Center, Beit Hatfutsot,
courtesy of Gerald Charles Lasensky, USA)

Yoel Levi (b. 1950), musician and conductor, born in Satu Mare, Romania. He immigrated at a young age to Israel. Levi attended the Tel Aviv Academy of Music, earning a Master of Arts degree with distinction, and then the Jerusalem Academy of Music under Mendi Rodan.

Levi won the 1978 International Besancon Competition for Young Conductors and later on studied with Franco Ferrara in Siena and Rome, Italy, with Kiril Kondrashin in the Netherlands, and at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama in London, England.

He moved to United States in late 1970s and became an American citizen in 1987. Levi was chief assistant of Lorin Maazel at the Cleveland Symphony Orchestra (1978-1980) and then chief resident with the same orchestra (1980-1984). Levi. He was the music director and principal conductor for the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra from 1988 to 2000. Through 2004-2005, Levi continued to conduct two concert weekends in Atlanta each season.

He conducted the Stockholm Philharmonic Orchestra at the 1991 Nobel Prize Ceremony and the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra at the opening and closing ceremonies of the 1996 Olympics Games in Atlanta.

As of 2005, he is a music advisor to the Flemish Radio Orchestra and is the Principal Guest Conductor of the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra.

In 2001, he was awarded the Chevalier de l'Ordre des Arts et des Lettres by the French government.

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

Columbus

A city on the Chattahoochee River and county seat of Muscogee County on the west-central border of the state of Georgia, United States. Located 160 km from Atlanta, Columbus is the second largest city in Georgia.

21st CENTURY

In 2001 the Jewish population of Columbus was 750, a decline of approximately 25% within the last quarter of the 1900’s.  Numbers have continued to shrink during the first quarter of the 21st century. There are two synagogues, a Reform Temple Israel and a Conservative Shearith Israel.

Shearith Israel sold its building to a local church in 2009. The premises, lacking accessibility to people with handicaps, were no longer suitable for its elderly membership. In 2010 the parsonage house was remodeled into a small synagogue. There is only a part-time rabbi.

There is a small Jewish Federation of Columbus Georgia.

HISTORY

There were individual Jewish traders living around Columbus as early as the beginning of the 19th century, even before the town was officially incorporated in 1828. A Jew, Jacob Moses served as mayor in 1844.

A community was formed in 1854 when a group of Jews, the majority immigrants from Germany, established congregation B’nai Israel. They began by meeting in members’ homes, but later rented a building on the corner of 10th Street and 5th Avenue that also served as a school to instruct children in Hebrew and German as well as religious studies. In 1859 they purchased a house on 10th Street and 4th Avenue which they refurbished as a synagogue, accommodating 100 people.

In 1859 there were 20 Jewish families living in Columbus, most of them involved in retail trade. Of 37 Jews listed in the city directory, seventeen were dry goods merchants, and  three clothing merchants. There were seven store clerks and five skilled craftsmen, including four tinners and one shoemaker.

Columbus Jews played an active role in the Confederate economy during the Civil War (1861-1865). Tinsmiths Louis and Herman Haiman, brothers from Prussia, bought Muscogee Iron Works.  By 1863 the company had 400 workers, many young boys, producing 250 swords a day for the Confederacy. By the end of the War, they were also manufacturing pistols. When the hostilities were over, they converted their enterprise to making ploughs for local farmers.  The brothers Simon and Frank Rothschild created a business manufacturing uniforms for the Confederate army.

Raphael J Moses (1812-1893) was one of the most prominent members of the Columbus Jewish community during this period. A lawyer by profession, he settled in the city in 1849. He took up farming and became the owner of a plantation he named Esquiline. He was the first planter to successfully ship and sell peaches outside the South, and is credited with being the first to preserve the flavor of shipped peaches by packing them in champagne baskets rather than pulverized charcoal. By 1860, he owned 47 slaves.

 Moses was the chief commissary officer of General James Longstreet of the Confederate Army.  Moses was responsible for feeding and supplying up to 54,000 Confederate troops and personnel. He performed his duties without looting from private homes during raids on the Union, always paying for what he took, although with Confederate currency.  Three of his sons fought in the army of the South. One, Albert, was the first Confederate Jew to die in battle (in 1862, in Virginia). At the end of the Civil War in 1865 Moses was given the task by Jefferson Davis, the president of the Confederacy, to take $40,000 in gold and silver bullion from the Confederate treasury and make certain it was used to help defeated soldiers straggling home after the war. Traveling with armed guards, Moses managed to successfully deliver the gold and silver to Augusta, Georgia where he negotiated with a Union general that it be used to feed former Confederate soldiers. After the war, Moses was elected to the Georgia state House of Representatives where he became chairman of its judiciary committee.

On the negative side of the law, Simeon Stern, who owned a dry goods store in Columbus with his brother, was arrested in 1862 for passing counterfeit Confederate money in return for cotton.

Rabbi James Gutheim (1817-1886) traveled to Columbus every six weeks to lead Shabbat services at B’nai Israel between 1863-1865. Gutheim had left his congregation in New Orleans over his refusal to take a loyalty oath to the Union when the city was captured by the North and was thus a hero to Confederate sympathizers.

After the Civil War, in 1866, the Jews of Columbus organized a local chapter of B’nai Brith. In 1870 they founded a social club, first called Columbus Concordia, and later the Harmony Club.  According to its minutes, its goal was to “alleviate the monotonous evenings and Sundays in this city.” In 1874 the Daughters of Israel, that was to become the Jewish Ladies Aid Society, was formed. Its purpose was to provide charity and assistance to the needy.

When first established, B’nai Israel had functioned as an Orthodox synagogue.  Like many congregations in the Southern US, it gradually adopted Reform practices, and in 1875 became a member of the Reform Union of American Hebrew Congregations. In 1886 the members hired Louis Weiss, who served as their Rabbi for two years.  In 1887, they dedicated a new synagogue constructed in the Byzantine style, which a local newspaper described as one of the most beautiful buildings in the city. By 1891 they had instituted a mixed choir and installed an organ. They had already reduced the celebration of Jewish holidays to one day. By this time a new wave of immigrants from Germany had almost completely replaced the original 20 member families.

 In the 1890’s B’nai Israel found itself in financial trouble and unable to meet its mortgage obligations.  The members of the Jewish Ladies Aid Society wrote to the widow of the French Jewish philanthropist Baron DeHirsch who sent them $2000 to pay off the debt. The congregation installed a memorial window in memory of the Baron and Baroness, and to this day recite their names during Yizkor services. The Ladies Aid Society was very active in keeping the synagogue financially afloat, by running fairs and bazaars where a considerable amount of money was raised.

At the end of the 19th century, immigrants from Eastern Europe began to settle in Columbus. They were traditional in their religious practices and in 1892 they organized their own synagogue, Chevra Sharis Israel, with an initial membership of 15 families. At first, they met in rented spaces, but by 1915 were able to purchase land and build a house of worship on the corner of 1st Avenue and 7th Street. The funds were raised by a group of 11 men, ten of whom were Russian- born immigrants, and nine of whom had immigrated to the US after 1897. Each contributed $100. The building had a stucco exterior, a balcony for women, and could seat 500. Membership in the congregation grew rapidly. In 1909 the women of the synagogue founded the Jewish Ladies Relief Society that would become the Sisterhood.  In 1919 the religious school had 50 students enrolled.

The longer established B’nai Israel, also grew in membership from 48 member families in 1905 to 85 in 1925. A driving force behind its expansion was Rabbi Frank Rosenthal who led the community from 1907 to 1940.  He helped rebuild after the synagogue was damaged by fire in 1907.  He was also active in the general community and involved in local civic organizations. He served as president of the Jewish Welfare Board during World War I, and led services for soldiers at Fort Benning, the large military base set up by the US War Department in 1918 next to Columbus. Unlike other Reform rabbis in the Southern US, he was not opposed to Zionism. In 1919 Columbus Jews set up a local Zionist district affiliated with the Zionist Organization of America.

In 1937 the Jewish population of Columbus was 725, more than double what it had been at the end of the previous century. Most Jews were in the retail trade, but there were some who had become successful in manufacturing. Jews were active and held leadership positions in civic organizations, such as the city Board of Education, Metro Planning Commission, and local medical center.

In 1939 the community mobilized to bring Jews from Germany, bringing a family to Columbus every month, while conditions in Europe made it still possible.  In 1944 the Columbus Jewish Welfare Federation was organized.  It raised funds for Israel during the 1967 and Yom Kippur wars.

Sharis Israel grew during the 1940’s to a membership of 100 families, supporting a full-time rabbi and a shochet. The community changed the name of the synagogue to Shearith Israel. Its growth to 124 member families and its changing needs, led it in 1951 to construct a new building on Wynneton Road, with a sanctuary that could accommodate 300, a smaller chapel, six classrooms for a Hebrew School, a social hall, and a kitchen. It gradually moved away from Orthodoxy, introducing mixed seating and some English in the prayer services. In 1952 it officially joined the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism. In 1974 it became egalitarian, calling women to the Torah, and counting them for a minyan. In the 1980’s its membership reached a peak of 150 families. It operated a kosher co-op run by 30 members who ordered meat from Chicago and Atlanta several times a year.

B’nai Israel, which changed its name to Temple Israel grew to 80 families in 1940.  In 1952 it moved to a new building on Wildwood Avenue.  By 1962 it had grown to 119 families, and in 1982 peaked at 182 families.

In 1977 Temple Israel and Shearith Israel merged their 8th, 9th, and 10th grade religious school classes, and in the 1990’s merged the two schools completely. They were to split apart in 2004, as both synagogues declined in membership, and only Temple Israel continued to operate a school.

Charlotte

The largest city in the State of North Carolina, USA.

21ST CENTURY

Shalom Park is a 54-acre campus that serves as the center of Charlotte’s Jewish community. Located on campus are the Levine Jewish Community Center and its affiliated summer camp, Camp Mindy, a kosher supermarket and restaurant, the Levine-Sklut Judaic Library and Resource Center (the repository of the Charlotte Jewish Archives), synagogues Temple Israel and Temple Beth El, the Charlotte Torah Center, a Chabad, and the Jewish Federation of Greater Charlotte. Jewish education institutions located on campus include the Charlotte Jewish Preschool, the Charlotte Jewish Day School, and the Consolidated High School of Jewish Studies (Hebrew High of Charlotte). Most Jews live within 15 miles of Shalom Park.

Charlotte is home to six synagogues: Charlotte Torah Center (Orthodox), Congregation Kehillat Charlotte (Conservative), Temple Israel (Conservative), Temple Beth El (Reform), Havurat Tikvah (Reconstructionist), and Ohr HaTorah-Charlotte (Chabad).

The Charlotte Jewish News is a monthly newspaper that keeps Charlotte’s Jews informed about local, national, and international news of Jewish interest.

In 2009 Charlotte’s Jewish population was estimated at 14,000.

 

HISTORY

Individual Jews settled in Charlotte before the American Revolution (1775-1783), and a number served in the Revolutionary Army. Jewish institutions and congregations, however, were not established until the latter half of the 19th century.  

In 1850 census 9 Jewish families were recorded as living in Charlotte, and in 1860 the Jewish population was approximately 50 Jews.

During the Civil War (1861-1865) eleven Jewish men from Charlotte served in the Confederate Army. One, Private Louis Leon, kept a diary in which he wrote about the war and his experiences; at one point he mentions that General Robert E. Lee granted special passes to Jewish troops so that they could attend High Holiday services. The Jews who lived in Charlotte tended to be very supportive of the Confederacy, evidenced in part by the fact that at the end of the war a Jewish resident of Charlotte provided Varina Anne Davis (the wife of Jefferson Davis) a safe haven as she and her husband attempted to flee from federal troops.

The late 19th century saw an influx of German Jews to the United States, with some arriving to settle in Charlotte. These immigrants established Charlotte’s first Jewish organizations. The Hebrew Benevolent Society was founded first, and received permission to establish a Jewish cemetery in 1872. A Bnai Brith Lodge followed a few years later. However, it was not until Eastern European Jews began arriving at the end of the 19th century that the city’s first congregation was established. Shaarey Israel was formed in 1893. The Hebrew United Brotherhood (later renamed Temple Israel) was established in 1895 and its synagogue building was constructed in 1916.

Temple Israel eventually had to sell its building, a result of the congregation’s financial difficulties during the Great Depression (1929-1939). This setback proved to be temporary, however, and a new synagogue building for Temple Israel was built in 1949. Temple Beth El, a Reform congregation, was established in 1942. Temple Beth Shalom, another Reform congregation, was established in 1970 after a split from Temple Beth El. Eventually, in 1987, Beth Shalom and Beth El would re-merge.

More Jewish immigrants continued arriving in Charlotte during the postwar era. A number of Cuban Jewish refugees arrived after the 1959 Cuban Revolution; Soviet Jews began arriving in 1974.

Shalom Park opened in 1986 and became a center for Jewish life in Charlotte.

Charlotte’s Jewish population was 350 in 1920. By 1937 it had grown to 720. In 1960 the Jewish population was 2,000, a number that doubled by 1984. In 1997 there were 8,500 Jews living in Charlotte.

Notable figures from the Jewish community include Dannie Heineman, an industrialist who founded the Heineman Medical Outreach, Inc. during the late 1940s. Harry Golden, an immigrant from the Ukraine and bestselling author, founded the newspaper Carolina Israelite in 1942, which advocated for integration.  Leon and Sandra Levine served as major philanthropists; the projects they have funded include the Levine Museum of the New South, the Levine Jewish Community Center, the Levine Children’s Hospital, the Levine Scholars Program at the University of North Carolina—Charlotte, and the Levine Science Research Center at Duke University.

 

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.  

Macon

City in the central part of the state of Georgia, United States.

21st CENTURY

The Jewish population of Macon as of 2021 is under 1000 and has declined slightly since the beginning of the 21st century. Jews make up less than 1 % of the general population. Most Jews in the community are no longer in trade as were their family members in the previous generation, but in the professions. They are employed in health care, higher education, and the financial and insurance industries.

The city has two synagogues, the Reform Temple Beth Israel, and the Conservative Sha’arey Israel.

There is a Jewish Federation of Macon & Middle Georgia that coordinates fund-raising activities for the community.

HISTORY

The first Jew to settle in Macon was Nathan Grossmayer, who opened a store in 1840. He was joined by a small number of other Jews within the next few years. In 1844 the community purchased a plot of land in the city’s Rose Hill Cemetery.  This burial ground was maintained by a voluntary group until it was absorbed by the synagogue Beth Israel in 1863.

The synagogue Kahal Kodosh Beth Israel was established in 1859, and its 78 members granted a charter by the Georgia state legislature. The dues were set at US$50 for a married man with an open business, US$25 for a laborer, and US$12 for a single man. It was agreed to follow the traditional German Orthodox minhag (ritual), with services held in Hebrew and German, and lectures given in German and English. A Torah scroll was purchased for US$250. The Rev. Henry Lowenthal, originally from London, but living in New Haven at the time, was hired as Rabbi, with a salary of US$700, but when his wife passed away within a year, he returned to England. Services were held in a rented space over a confectionary store.

During the American Civil War (1861-1865), a number of Jews from Macon drilled with the German Artillery Company, an organization of American citizens of German birth, supporting the Confederacy.

After the war, more Jews moved Macon. In 1866, 20 new members joined Beth Israel. In 1868 a religious school was organized with a curriculum in Hebrew, German, and English. A lot was purchased in the center of town for $500, and the members of the congregation began collecting funds to construct a building, which was dedicated in 1874. In 1879 a new Jewish cemetery was established on land donated by William Wolff.

The building of the synagogue brought about dissension in the community because a pipe organ was installed in the sanctuary. Some members split off to form a short-lived Congregation B’nai Israel and purchased land for a separate ground within the city cemetery.

In the last quarter of the 19th century, Jews found their place in the general Macon community, serving on the city council, joining civic clubs, taking an active role in the arts, politics, and social services. Jews helped establish the Macon Hospital and the board of trade.

For a brief period, Beth Israel went into a decline, with diminished funds, and with no rabbi or officers leading the congregation.  In 1890, it reorganized with 74 members, and in 1894 it hired Rabbi Isaac E. Marcuson, a graduate of Hebrew Union College.  He introduced liberal practices such as the removal of the rabbi’s hat during services, adopting the Union Prayer Book, and reaffiliating with the Reform movement’s Union of Hebrew Congregations which Beth Israel had joined for a brief period in the late 1880’s.  Marcuson played an active role in the general community, serving on the board of the Macon Public Library and the Boy Scouts, and as chairman of the Macon chapter of the American Red Cross. He also became prominent in the Reform movement on the national level.

In 1881 a small number of Eastern European Jews began arriving in Macon. They were tradesmen, including tinners, tailors, and trunk makers. These new immigrants were traditional in their religious practices.  In 1898 they established their own burial society, “The Hebrew Aid Society,” and in 1904 were granted a charter to incorporate Congregation Sherah Israel. Initially, the members met in rented halls until they were able to purchase a two-story house on Oak and Third Streets for US$5,000.

In 1902 Beth Israel constructed a new building on the corner of Spring and Cherry Streets.  A farmer’s market had grown up opposite its old location on Poplar Street, and the noise and clutter had created too great a disturbance to continue holding services. In 1903 the congregation was composed of 89 member families, 75% of German origin. Most were merchants dealing in dry goods, clothing, or shoes.

According to a 1909 survey by the Jewish Industrial Removal Office (IRO) (an agency assisting European Jewish immigrants to the US at the beginning of the 20th century), there were approximately 470 Jews (110 families) living in Macon. In addition to the two congregations, there was a local chapter of B’nai Brith and a Progress Club. The community included at least one doctor, one lawyer, a tannery, a saddle manufacturer, merchants, small traders, peddlers, working men, and a few cotton farmers.  According to the IRO report, Macon was a “fine city for Hebrew gentlemen” since kosher food was available. In March 1913 the IRO set up an official committee in Macon to help new immigrants find work.

During World War I members from both Beth Israel and Sherah Israel served in the US armed forces. Macon Jews raised money for the Jewish War Relief fund to help the suffering Jews of Europe.  After the War, Zionist groups began to form in the city and advocate for a Jewish state in Palestine. The Reform movement was opposed to the idea however, and Rabbi Marcuson wrote a letter to the Macon Daily Telegraph stating that “Jews are going to stay in America and remain good American Jews.”

In 1922 Sherah Israel dedicated a new building on Plum and First Streets. A Ladies Auxiliary was formed that played an active role in raising funds. The membership increased and enrollment in the Hebrew School grew.  Adult Bible classes were offered in Yiddish.

During World War II both Beth Israel and Sherah Israel hosted seders for servicemen stationed at Camp Wheeler in Macon and the Air Force base at Cochran field. Members of the congregations served in the armed forces and Rabbi Marcuson was appointed civilian chaplain.

In the late 1940s, Sherah Israel moved away from Orthodoxy and in 1949 joined the Conservative United Synagogue of America. The premises were expanded and remodeled over the next years. In 1974 the synagogue moved further to the left and began calling women to the Torah for Aliyot and counting them for a minyan. In 1999 it was decided to change the name of the congregation to Sha’arey Israel.

Beth Israel in the 1990’s began to move more to the right, combining elements of more traditional Judaism.

Augusta

A city on the Savannah River in the east central section of the State of Georgia, United States.

21st CENTURY

The Jewish population of Augusta is approximately 1300, less than 1% of the total general population. The community supports an active Jewish Federation and Jewish Community Center, as well as a Jewish Family Services organization. The city has a Reform congregation, the Children of Israel, a Conservative congregation, Adas Yeshurun, and a Chabad house.

In 2009 Children of Israel had a membership of 157 families and Adas Yeshurun 170, a considerable decline from the end of the previous century.  Because of a fall in the number of students to a total of 45, the Reform and Conservative congregations merged their religious schools to form the Augusta Jewish Community Sunday School, offering classes from kindergarten to seventh grade. Chabad runs a separate religious school open to all in the community.

In 2021 the Jewish Community Center downsized, selling its large complex, and made the decision to hold its programs in partnership with other local Jewish organizations.

Although its numbers are declining, there is a commitment by the community to preserve its heritage.  The year 2021 marked the opening of the Augusta Jewish Museum. It is housed in an 1860 Court building adjacent to the original congregation Children of Israel building, which is the oldest synagogue structure in Georgia that remains standing.  The city of Augusta had announced plans to demolish both buildings to make way for a municipal parking lot.  Leaders of Historic Augusta and friends and members of the Jewish community formed an alliance to restore the two buildings and transform them into a center of learning with exhibits and programming chronicling the life, history, and contributions of the Jewish community of the Central Savannah River Area. The center would also be a place for educating about the Holocaust and Israel. In 2022 there are plans to renovate the synagogue building into an event space attached to the museum.

HISTORY

The first recorded Jew to settle in Augusta was Isaac Hendricks, a trader in furs and hides who arrived in 1802 from Charleston, South Carolina. In 1825 he was joined by the Florence family and the families of Isaac and Jacob Moise.

The community first began to organize with the arrival of immigrants from Germany in the 1840’s.  In 1845 a group of five or six families established a religious school taught by the daughters of Isaac Hendricks and Jacob Moise in which eleven children were enrolled. In 1846 the group founded the B’nai Israel Hebrew Society.  Its charter stated that the congregation was made up of “the scattered Israelites” of Augusta, Georgia and neighboring Hamburg, South Carolina. Its purpose was communal worship and charity “toward our needy brethren.” The society was presented by Augusta city officials with a section of the Magnolia Cemetery for use as a burial ground.

According to an 1846 article written by Jacob Moise in the Occident, a monthly Jewish periodical published by the American religious leader Rabbi Isaac Leeser (1806-1868), the new B’nai Israel society was going to bolster Judaism in Augusta where Jews have been mingling with gentiles and intermarrying, and “their identity as a religious sect has been utterly destroyed.”

In 1847 a local banker, Isaac Henry, arranged for a building which the congregation could use for worship and learning. In 1851 a Reverend Mr. Marcassohm was hired as chazzan and spiritual leader, but he left soon after and converted to Christianity.  In 1852 the congregation leased at the corner of Greene and Jackson Streets a building which it was to occupy for the next 17 years. Readers of the Occident donated money to help B’nai Israel purchase a Torah scroll. Services were traditional, although they included some prayers in English, and there was a mixed choir.  The ritual included both Portuguese and Ashkenazi elements. The members began to call their synagogue by the English translation of B’nai Israel, the Children of Israel.

During the American Civil War (1861-1865) four members of the community died serving in the Confederate army, three of whom are buried in the Magnolia cemetery.

Like many other synagogues in the southern US, the Children of Israel began moving in the direction of Reform Judaism. In 1869 when the cornerstone was laid for a new building of their own on Telfair Street, Isaac M. Wise (1819-1900), the leader of the Reform Movement in the US, was the guest speaker. The cost of building the synagogue was $15,000. There were 44 members, 6% native born, 75% from Prussia, and less than 10% from Poland or Russia. The average age was 41, and 87% were merchants, most of them dealing in dry goods or clothing.  There was one shoemaker.

Within the last quarter of the 19th century a number of the members of the community developed successful businesses and became wealthy.  Some went into the professions, such as Samuel Levy who was judge of the probate court from 1866-1877 and served on the Augusta city council, C. Henry Cohen who was solicitor general of the superior court from 1877-1901, and Isaac Levy who held the position of sheriff.

In 1869 a chapter of B’nai Brith was founded and in 1879 a group of women started the Hebrew Ladies Aid Society. Members of the Jewish community also established an exclusive social organization, the Standard Club, with a swimming pool and billiard room.

Beginning in the 1880’s, Jews began to immigrate to Augusta from Eastern Europe, the majority from the town of Kobrin within the Russian Pale of Settlement.  These were Orthodox Jews and in 1889 five families organized a Minyan that met over a drugstore at 10th and Broad Streets at the home of Morris Steinberg. There was soon dissension among this small group. Because some of the members kept their businesses open on the Sabbath, those who disapproved broke away in 1890 to form another Minyan called the Keep Saturday Society. In 1891, a third group formed their own Minyan.  Later in the same year the three groups settled their differences sufficiently to rejoin and form Congregation Adas Yeshurun. According to its charter the purposes were “for mutual benefit and pleasure and to assist in charitable work.”

In 1895 Adas Yeshurun bought a lot on 10th Street, and with pledges of $10 from each of its 60 members and a mortgage, erected a building with a sanctuary on the main floor and a Hebrew school and mikveh in the basement.  In 1902 the congregation split once again over the issue of a shochet, but after several years reunited.

In 1907 the Jewish population of Augusta reached approximately 500. Adas Yeshurun had a membership of 65 families and Children of Israel 42.

In 1909 the women of Adas Yeshurun organized a sisterhood, the Daughters of Israel.  In 1914 the congregation moved to larger quarters, purchasing a former church building on Ellis Street. The building was refurbished with a balcony for women and a mikvah.  Until 1930 the meetings were conducted, and the minutes recorded, in Yiddish.  In 1944, for the first time, the congregation hired a rabbi, Henry Goldenberger. He introduced some changes, but the synagogue remained Orthodox, its 1949 constitution stipulating that “the Rabbi must be an ordained Orthodox Rabbi.”

Aaron Tanenbaum (1873-1967), who came to Augusta at the age of 16, was one of the leaders of Adas Yeshurun.  He was also an ardent Zionist, and the founder of Augusta’s Lovers of Zion, the first Zionist organization in the Southeast region of the US. He was a delegate to the 1901 World Zionist Congress. By 1907 Augusta had two Zionist organizations, the Lovers of Zion and the Daughters of Zion, as well as a chapter of the Jewish Socialist-Territorialist Labor Party.

In 1935 Adas Yeshuren and Children of Israel together founded a Young Men’s Hebrew Association (YMHA).  Its building on Greene Street became a social center for the Augusta Jewish community with athletic and theatrical programs. During World War II the building was used as a USO club for Jewish soldiers stationed at Camp Gordon. In the 1950’s it moved to Sibley Road and became known as the Jewish Community Center. It later built a larger facility on Weinberger Way.

The Children of Israel congregation in 1939 had 43 children enrolled in its religious school and in 1941 had a membership of 60 families. Numbers increased during World War II under the guidance of Rabbi Sylvan Schwartzman who led adult education classes, started an interfaith community forum, and served as chaplain at the local military base. There were 43 members of the congregation who served in the Armed Forces. By 1946 Children of Israel had grown to 105 families. In 1951 it moved into a new building on the corner of Walton Way and Bransford Road. By 1955 membership had grown to 142 families, and by 1963 there were 103 children in its religious school. Because of the growth of the congregation, in 1967 a new sanctuary, social hall, and kitchen were added to the existing building. In 1992 further renovations were made. In 1995 membership reached its peak at 225 families and  there was an enrollment of 140 children in the religious school. In 1996 a Machon Hebrew High School was organized.

Adas Yeshurun also grew in the second half of the 20th century. In 1954, after some dissension, it moved from downtown to Johns Road, a location in a neighborhood where most congregants had moved. At that time, it had 200 member families. It still remained an Orthodox synagogue and built a new mikveh in the 1960’s. In 1995, however, it officially joined the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism.

The Orthodox vacuum was filled by Chabad that opened a house in the community in 1996.

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The Jewish Community of Atlanta

Atlanta

Capital of the State of Georgia, USA.

As of 2010, Atlanta's Jewish population was estimated at 120,000, making it the ninth largest Jewish community in the United States, in spite of the fact that its Jewish community is relatively young. According to the 2006 population study conducted by Jacob Ukeles and Ron Miller for the Jewish Federation of Greater Atlanta, children under age 18 comprise as much as 25 percent of the community, while Jews aged 65 and over represent only 12 percent. The vast majority (81 percent) of Atlanta's Jewish residents were born outside the state of Georgia. Of this group, approximately 30% are transfers from New York and New Jersey and about 6% were born in the former Soviet Union. While Atlanta's Jewish population is predominantly Ashkenazi, its Sephardi community is one of the largest in the country.

Nearly every national Jewish organization has a branch in Atlanta. There are numerous institutions serving the Jewish community's social, educational, and cultural needs. More than 60 different agencies are partnered with the Federation of Greater Atlanta, the community's principal welfare organization. With a $125 million endowment, the Federation is also one of the largest sources of funding for Jewish programs.


In addition to being the state's capital, the city of Atlanta serves as the country's southeastern headquarters for several major organizations, including the American Jewish Committee, B'nai B'rith, the Anti-Defamation League, the Council of Jewish Federation and Welfare Funds, and the National Welfare Board. Atlanta is also one of 10 locations in the United States with an Israeli consulate general.


Atlanta has a variety of kosher restaurants and food options, as well as its own kashrut commission, the AKC (Atlanta Kashrut Commission), an agency which certifies over 100 companies, supermarkets, restaurants, and food manufacturers in Atlanta and throughout the United States. By 2015 there were 24 kosher establishments in the Greater Atlanta area, including bakeries, butcher shops, catering companies, and restaurants. There are also several grocery stores which carry kosher food products.


By 2005, there were 34 synagogues in Greater Atlanta, an increase from the 19 that existed in 1984. Nonetheless, the vast majority of the Jewish community is unaffiliated; 42% of Atlanta's Jews belong to a synagogue or Jewish organization –one of the lowest rates in the United States. Among those affiliated with a congregation or connected to the Jewish community, 46% identify as Reform, 26% as Conservative, and 9% as Orthodox. The Chabad-Lubavitch movement has established a presence in Atlanta, and has made efforts to reach out to the more than 70,000 unaffiliated Jews in the community.


Several Atlanta neighborhoods have their own eruv, including Toco Hills, Sandy Springs, Dunwoody, and Alpharetta in the north metro area. There are also five congregations that have their own mikvah. In 2015, Congregation B'nai Torah opened a new mikvah facility which is used both by many in the community, as well as by people from other Jewish communities.


The Jewish community of Atlanta has established many educational programs and institutions for Jewish youth. The Marcus Jewish Community Center of Atlanta (MJCCA) offers a variety of programs, as do many of the community's congregations. Jewish education is also often part of many of the community's social and cultural associations; there are more than 15 after-school programs and summer camps.


Jewish schools in Atlanta range from Orthodox to Reform. There are seven preschools, five day schools, and four high schools. One of these high schools is Atlanta Jewish Academy, the result of a 2014 merger of Greenfield Hebrew Academy (GHA), and Yeshiva Atlanta (YA), the oldest Jewish day schools in Atlanta. Other notable Jewish schools include the Torah Day School of Atlanta, the Davis Academy, the Solomon Schechter School of Atlanta, the Doris and Alex Weber Jewish Community High School, and Temima High School, an Orthodox girls' school.


The Jews of Atlanta are widely spread out over the city. Many have moved to the northern, southern, and eastern parts of the city. But while there is no predominantly Jewish neighborhood, there are several areas with a significant number of Jewish residents. Dunwoody, East Cobb, Sandy Springs, Alpharetta and Toco Hills have sizeable Jewish communities. The city's downtown area has become a hub for young Jewish professionals, as well as for young families. In order to keep the community socially and culturally connected, many Jewish institutions and agencies have opened branches in the suburbs.


Many in Atlanta's Jewish community have been recognized for their philanthropic endeavors. Several community projects have been developed under Jewish leadership and with significant donations made by Jewish entrepreneurs. Individuals such as Arthur Blank and Bernard Marcus, the founders of Home Depot, are well-known for their philanthropy as well as for their business activity.


There are multiple sites of Jewish historical significance in Atlanta. The William Breman Jewish Museum provides a history of Atlanta's Jewish community, and offers permanent exhibits dedicated to the Holocaust. Other important sites include memorials commemorating the Holocaust and the events of World War II. Located in the Greenwood Cemetery is a large granite monument, featuring six torches, each one representing one million Jews who perished in the Holocaust. The memorial was placed there by the Eternal-Life Hemshech organization, which was formed in 1964 by Holocaust survivors living in Atlanta. In 2008, the memorial was listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Also located in Greenwood Cemetery is a memorial to Jewish war veterans. The Jewish Community Center's Zaban Park is home to the Besser Holocaust Memorial Garden. Each year the garden hosts ceremonies commemorating the Holocaust and Kristallnacht.


The primary Jewish publication in the city is the Atlanta Jewish Times (AJT), originally known as the Southern Israelite. Distributed for free, it serves the Jewish community of Atlanta and adjacent areas. Before World War II, there were three English-language Jewish newspapers, as well as a Yiddish newspaper.


HISTORY

German Jews lived in the area, an important transportation center, beginning in the early 1840s. The first known Jew to live in Atlanta was Jacob Haas, who opened a dry goods store with Henry Levi in 1846. Moses Sternberger, Adolph Brady, and David Mayer arrived in the city shortly thereafter, as did Aaron Alexander and his family, who were American-born Sephardim from South Carolina. Atlanta's first Jews were mostly merchants. Some were involved in financial services such as banking, brokerage firms, insurance, and real estate. Others manufactured paper products and cotton bagging.

The Hebrew Benevolent Society, established in 1860, later became the Hebrew Benevolent Congregation in 1867. Still later it was known simply as "The Temple." The Temple was Reform; its first rabbi, Rabbi Dr. David Burgheim, was appointed in 1869, and the building housing the congregation was erected in 1877. Eastern Europeans who emigrated to Atlanta in the 1880s established an Orthodox congregation, Ahavath Achim, in 1887 and built a building for the synagogue in 1901. There were three more Orthodox congregations by 1910, and Sephardim from Rhodes founded a congregation in 1914.

Since the post-Civil War era Jews have been active in Atlanta politics. Samuel Weil served in the Georgia Legislature in 1869, Aaron Haas became the city's mayor pro term in 1875, and Sam Massell was elected mayor in 1970. David Mayer, the founding member of the Board of Education, is remembered as the "father of public schools." Jews are also among the founders of the city's hospital, library, chamber of commerce, and other public institutions. Rabbi Dr. David Marx, the rabbi of The Temple for 51 years, was known for his interfaith leadership; his successor, Rabbi Dr. Jacob M. Rothschild, is known for his efforts advocating for racial equality. Rabbi Tobias Geffen was an Orthodox rabbi who was a major figure within the community for the fifty years he served there. Among his more notable actions was giving a hekhsher (kosher certification) to Coca-Cola, an Atlanta-based company.

While the elite Jews of Atlanta had assimilated into the city to an unusual degree, they nonetheless felt detached from the rest of Atlanta society. They began to feel truly threatened by anti-Semitism during the Leo Frank case of 1913-1915. Frank, a respected member of the community, was convicted of the murder of a 13 year old girl and sentenced to hang. When his sentence was commuted to life imprisonment by Governor John Slaton, who was deeply skeptical of the conviction, a mob kidnapped Frank from prison and lynched him. Frank's trial and lynching had a deep impact on the Jewish community, many of whom tried to hide their Jewishness or moved out of the city altogether. Leo Frank's case was also mentioned in the announcement of the creation of the Anti-Defamation League in 1913. Most historians conclude that Frank was innocent, and The Georgia State Board of Pardons and Paroles officially pardoned Frank posthumously in 1986.

1958 saw another outbreak of violence against the Jewish community when The Temple was bombed by white supremacists, who were angered by The Temple's support for civil rights.

Jewish communal institutions entered a peak period of development during the turn of the 20th century. The early 20th century saw the establishment of institutions including: a Jewish Community Center, the Bureau of Jewish Education, Hebrew day schools, a home for the elderly, and "The Southern Israelite."

The Jewish community in Atlanta numbered approximately 28,000 in 1980; by 2006 it had grown to over 120,000.

Written by researchers of ANU Museum of the Jewish People
Geffen, Tobias
Geffen, Tobias (1870-1970), rabbi, born in Kovno, Lithuania (then part of the Russian Empire). He studied under Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Spektor and then in the Yeshiva of Slovodka. In 1903 he immigrated to the USA and was appointed rabbi of Ahavat Zedek congregation in New York City. Four years later he moved to a small community in Ohio and then in 1910 he became rabbi of Congregation Shearith Israel, Atlanta, Georgia. He remained in this position until the end of his life.

Geffen became widely known for his decision in 1935 to certify Coca-Cola as kosher. Geffen published eight books, written in Yiddish, of responsa, sermons and Talmudic dissertations. He was the leader of the Southern division of the Union of Orthodox Rabbis.
Jewish Orphanage in Atlanta, Georgia (USA). Postcard 1910s

Jewish Orphanage in Atlanta, Georgia, USA
Postcard, 1910s
The Oster Visual Documentation Center, courtesy of the Gross Family Collection, Tel Aviv

Demonstration for Soviet Jews, Atlanta, Georgia, USA, 1970
"Let Them Go", a demonstration for Soviet Jews,
Atlanta, Georgia, USA,1970.
Photo: Gerald Charles Lasensky, USA
(The Oster Visual Documentation Center, Beit Hatfutsot,
courtesy of Gerald Charles Lasensky, USA)
Yoel Levi

Yoel Levi (b. 1950), musician and conductor, born in Satu Mare, Romania. He immigrated at a young age to Israel. Levi attended the Tel Aviv Academy of Music, earning a Master of Arts degree with distinction, and then the Jerusalem Academy of Music under Mendi Rodan.

Levi won the 1978 International Besancon Competition for Young Conductors and later on studied with Franco Ferrara in Siena and Rome, Italy, with Kiril Kondrashin in the Netherlands, and at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama in London, England.

He moved to United States in late 1970s and became an American citizen in 1987. Levi was chief assistant of Lorin Maazel at the Cleveland Symphony Orchestra (1978-1980) and then chief resident with the same orchestra (1980-1984). Levi. He was the music director and principal conductor for the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra from 1988 to 2000. Through 2004-2005, Levi continued to conduct two concert weekends in Atlanta each season.

He conducted the Stockholm Philharmonic Orchestra at the 1991 Nobel Prize Ceremony and the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra at the opening and closing ceremonies of the 1996 Olympics Games in Atlanta.

As of 2005, he is a music advisor to the Flemish Radio Orchestra and is the Principal Guest Conductor of the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra.

In 2001, he was awarded the Chevalier de l'Ordre des Arts et des Lettres by the French government.

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

Columbus, GA

Columbus

A city on the Chattahoochee River and county seat of Muscogee County on the west-central border of the state of Georgia, United States. Located 160 km from Atlanta, Columbus is the second largest city in Georgia.

21st CENTURY

In 2001 the Jewish population of Columbus was 750, a decline of approximately 25% within the last quarter of the 1900’s.  Numbers have continued to shrink during the first quarter of the 21st century. There are two synagogues, a Reform Temple Israel and a Conservative Shearith Israel.

Shearith Israel sold its building to a local church in 2009. The premises, lacking accessibility to people with handicaps, were no longer suitable for its elderly membership. In 2010 the parsonage house was remodeled into a small synagogue. There is only a part-time rabbi.

There is a small Jewish Federation of Columbus Georgia.

HISTORY

There were individual Jewish traders living around Columbus as early as the beginning of the 19th century, even before the town was officially incorporated in 1828. A Jew, Jacob Moses served as mayor in 1844.

A community was formed in 1854 when a group of Jews, the majority immigrants from Germany, established congregation B’nai Israel. They began by meeting in members’ homes, but later rented a building on the corner of 10th Street and 5th Avenue that also served as a school to instruct children in Hebrew and German as well as religious studies. In 1859 they purchased a house on 10th Street and 4th Avenue which they refurbished as a synagogue, accommodating 100 people.

In 1859 there were 20 Jewish families living in Columbus, most of them involved in retail trade. Of 37 Jews listed in the city directory, seventeen were dry goods merchants, and  three clothing merchants. There were seven store clerks and five skilled craftsmen, including four tinners and one shoemaker.

Columbus Jews played an active role in the Confederate economy during the Civil War (1861-1865). Tinsmiths Louis and Herman Haiman, brothers from Prussia, bought Muscogee Iron Works.  By 1863 the company had 400 workers, many young boys, producing 250 swords a day for the Confederacy. By the end of the War, they were also manufacturing pistols. When the hostilities were over, they converted their enterprise to making ploughs for local farmers.  The brothers Simon and Frank Rothschild created a business manufacturing uniforms for the Confederate army.

Raphael J Moses (1812-1893) was one of the most prominent members of the Columbus Jewish community during this period. A lawyer by profession, he settled in the city in 1849. He took up farming and became the owner of a plantation he named Esquiline. He was the first planter to successfully ship and sell peaches outside the South, and is credited with being the first to preserve the flavor of shipped peaches by packing them in champagne baskets rather than pulverized charcoal. By 1860, he owned 47 slaves.

 Moses was the chief commissary officer of General James Longstreet of the Confederate Army.  Moses was responsible for feeding and supplying up to 54,000 Confederate troops and personnel. He performed his duties without looting from private homes during raids on the Union, always paying for what he took, although with Confederate currency.  Three of his sons fought in the army of the South. One, Albert, was the first Confederate Jew to die in battle (in 1862, in Virginia). At the end of the Civil War in 1865 Moses was given the task by Jefferson Davis, the president of the Confederacy, to take $40,000 in gold and silver bullion from the Confederate treasury and make certain it was used to help defeated soldiers straggling home after the war. Traveling with armed guards, Moses managed to successfully deliver the gold and silver to Augusta, Georgia where he negotiated with a Union general that it be used to feed former Confederate soldiers. After the war, Moses was elected to the Georgia state House of Representatives where he became chairman of its judiciary committee.

On the negative side of the law, Simeon Stern, who owned a dry goods store in Columbus with his brother, was arrested in 1862 for passing counterfeit Confederate money in return for cotton.

Rabbi James Gutheim (1817-1886) traveled to Columbus every six weeks to lead Shabbat services at B’nai Israel between 1863-1865. Gutheim had left his congregation in New Orleans over his refusal to take a loyalty oath to the Union when the city was captured by the North and was thus a hero to Confederate sympathizers.

After the Civil War, in 1866, the Jews of Columbus organized a local chapter of B’nai Brith. In 1870 they founded a social club, first called Columbus Concordia, and later the Harmony Club.  According to its minutes, its goal was to “alleviate the monotonous evenings and Sundays in this city.” In 1874 the Daughters of Israel, that was to become the Jewish Ladies Aid Society, was formed. Its purpose was to provide charity and assistance to the needy.

When first established, B’nai Israel had functioned as an Orthodox synagogue.  Like many congregations in the Southern US, it gradually adopted Reform practices, and in 1875 became a member of the Reform Union of American Hebrew Congregations. In 1886 the members hired Louis Weiss, who served as their Rabbi for two years.  In 1887, they dedicated a new synagogue constructed in the Byzantine style, which a local newspaper described as one of the most beautiful buildings in the city. By 1891 they had instituted a mixed choir and installed an organ. They had already reduced the celebration of Jewish holidays to one day. By this time a new wave of immigrants from Germany had almost completely replaced the original 20 member families.

 In the 1890’s B’nai Israel found itself in financial trouble and unable to meet its mortgage obligations.  The members of the Jewish Ladies Aid Society wrote to the widow of the French Jewish philanthropist Baron DeHirsch who sent them $2000 to pay off the debt. The congregation installed a memorial window in memory of the Baron and Baroness, and to this day recite their names during Yizkor services. The Ladies Aid Society was very active in keeping the synagogue financially afloat, by running fairs and bazaars where a considerable amount of money was raised.

At the end of the 19th century, immigrants from Eastern Europe began to settle in Columbus. They were traditional in their religious practices and in 1892 they organized their own synagogue, Chevra Sharis Israel, with an initial membership of 15 families. At first, they met in rented spaces, but by 1915 were able to purchase land and build a house of worship on the corner of 1st Avenue and 7th Street. The funds were raised by a group of 11 men, ten of whom were Russian- born immigrants, and nine of whom had immigrated to the US after 1897. Each contributed $100. The building had a stucco exterior, a balcony for women, and could seat 500. Membership in the congregation grew rapidly. In 1909 the women of the synagogue founded the Jewish Ladies Relief Society that would become the Sisterhood.  In 1919 the religious school had 50 students enrolled.

The longer established B’nai Israel, also grew in membership from 48 member families in 1905 to 85 in 1925. A driving force behind its expansion was Rabbi Frank Rosenthal who led the community from 1907 to 1940.  He helped rebuild after the synagogue was damaged by fire in 1907.  He was also active in the general community and involved in local civic organizations. He served as president of the Jewish Welfare Board during World War I, and led services for soldiers at Fort Benning, the large military base set up by the US War Department in 1918 next to Columbus. Unlike other Reform rabbis in the Southern US, he was not opposed to Zionism. In 1919 Columbus Jews set up a local Zionist district affiliated with the Zionist Organization of America.

In 1937 the Jewish population of Columbus was 725, more than double what it had been at the end of the previous century. Most Jews were in the retail trade, but there were some who had become successful in manufacturing. Jews were active and held leadership positions in civic organizations, such as the city Board of Education, Metro Planning Commission, and local medical center.

In 1939 the community mobilized to bring Jews from Germany, bringing a family to Columbus every month, while conditions in Europe made it still possible.  In 1944 the Columbus Jewish Welfare Federation was organized.  It raised funds for Israel during the 1967 and Yom Kippur wars.

Sharis Israel grew during the 1940’s to a membership of 100 families, supporting a full-time rabbi and a shochet. The community changed the name of the synagogue to Shearith Israel. Its growth to 124 member families and its changing needs, led it in 1951 to construct a new building on Wynneton Road, with a sanctuary that could accommodate 300, a smaller chapel, six classrooms for a Hebrew School, a social hall, and a kitchen. It gradually moved away from Orthodoxy, introducing mixed seating and some English in the prayer services. In 1952 it officially joined the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism. In 1974 it became egalitarian, calling women to the Torah, and counting them for a minyan. In the 1980’s its membership reached a peak of 150 families. It operated a kosher co-op run by 30 members who ordered meat from Chicago and Atlanta several times a year.

B’nai Israel, which changed its name to Temple Israel grew to 80 families in 1940.  In 1952 it moved to a new building on Wildwood Avenue.  By 1962 it had grown to 119 families, and in 1982 peaked at 182 families.

In 1977 Temple Israel and Shearith Israel merged their 8th, 9th, and 10th grade religious school classes, and in the 1990’s merged the two schools completely. They were to split apart in 2004, as both synagogues declined in membership, and only Temple Israel continued to operate a school.

Charlotte, NC

Charlotte

The largest city in the State of North Carolina, USA.

21ST CENTURY

Shalom Park is a 54-acre campus that serves as the center of Charlotte’s Jewish community. Located on campus are the Levine Jewish Community Center and its affiliated summer camp, Camp Mindy, a kosher supermarket and restaurant, the Levine-Sklut Judaic Library and Resource Center (the repository of the Charlotte Jewish Archives), synagogues Temple Israel and Temple Beth El, the Charlotte Torah Center, a Chabad, and the Jewish Federation of Greater Charlotte. Jewish education institutions located on campus include the Charlotte Jewish Preschool, the Charlotte Jewish Day School, and the Consolidated High School of Jewish Studies (Hebrew High of Charlotte). Most Jews live within 15 miles of Shalom Park.

Charlotte is home to six synagogues: Charlotte Torah Center (Orthodox), Congregation Kehillat Charlotte (Conservative), Temple Israel (Conservative), Temple Beth El (Reform), Havurat Tikvah (Reconstructionist), and Ohr HaTorah-Charlotte (Chabad).

The Charlotte Jewish News is a monthly newspaper that keeps Charlotte’s Jews informed about local, national, and international news of Jewish interest.

In 2009 Charlotte’s Jewish population was estimated at 14,000.

 

HISTORY

Individual Jews settled in Charlotte before the American Revolution (1775-1783), and a number served in the Revolutionary Army. Jewish institutions and congregations, however, were not established until the latter half of the 19th century.  

In 1850 census 9 Jewish families were recorded as living in Charlotte, and in 1860 the Jewish population was approximately 50 Jews.

During the Civil War (1861-1865) eleven Jewish men from Charlotte served in the Confederate Army. One, Private Louis Leon, kept a diary in which he wrote about the war and his experiences; at one point he mentions that General Robert E. Lee granted special passes to Jewish troops so that they could attend High Holiday services. The Jews who lived in Charlotte tended to be very supportive of the Confederacy, evidenced in part by the fact that at the end of the war a Jewish resident of Charlotte provided Varina Anne Davis (the wife of Jefferson Davis) a safe haven as she and her husband attempted to flee from federal troops.

The late 19th century saw an influx of German Jews to the United States, with some arriving to settle in Charlotte. These immigrants established Charlotte’s first Jewish organizations. The Hebrew Benevolent Society was founded first, and received permission to establish a Jewish cemetery in 1872. A Bnai Brith Lodge followed a few years later. However, it was not until Eastern European Jews began arriving at the end of the 19th century that the city’s first congregation was established. Shaarey Israel was formed in 1893. The Hebrew United Brotherhood (later renamed Temple Israel) was established in 1895 and its synagogue building was constructed in 1916.

Temple Israel eventually had to sell its building, a result of the congregation’s financial difficulties during the Great Depression (1929-1939). This setback proved to be temporary, however, and a new synagogue building for Temple Israel was built in 1949. Temple Beth El, a Reform congregation, was established in 1942. Temple Beth Shalom, another Reform congregation, was established in 1970 after a split from Temple Beth El. Eventually, in 1987, Beth Shalom and Beth El would re-merge.

More Jewish immigrants continued arriving in Charlotte during the postwar era. A number of Cuban Jewish refugees arrived after the 1959 Cuban Revolution; Soviet Jews began arriving in 1974.

Shalom Park opened in 1986 and became a center for Jewish life in Charlotte.

Charlotte’s Jewish population was 350 in 1920. By 1937 it had grown to 720. In 1960 the Jewish population was 2,000, a number that doubled by 1984. In 1997 there were 8,500 Jews living in Charlotte.

Notable figures from the Jewish community include Dannie Heineman, an industrialist who founded the Heineman Medical Outreach, Inc. during the late 1940s. Harry Golden, an immigrant from the Ukraine and bestselling author, founded the newspaper Carolina Israelite in 1942, which advocated for integration.  Leon and Sandra Levine served as major philanthropists; the projects they have funded include the Levine Museum of the New South, the Levine Jewish Community Center, the Levine Children’s Hospital, the Levine Scholars Program at the University of North Carolina—Charlotte, and the Levine Science Research Center at Duke University.

 

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.  

Macon, GA

Macon

City in the central part of the state of Georgia, United States.

21st CENTURY

The Jewish population of Macon as of 2021 is under 1000 and has declined slightly since the beginning of the 21st century. Jews make up less than 1 % of the general population. Most Jews in the community are no longer in trade as were their family members in the previous generation, but in the professions. They are employed in health care, higher education, and the financial and insurance industries.

The city has two synagogues, the Reform Temple Beth Israel, and the Conservative Sha’arey Israel.

There is a Jewish Federation of Macon & Middle Georgia that coordinates fund-raising activities for the community.

HISTORY

The first Jew to settle in Macon was Nathan Grossmayer, who opened a store in 1840. He was joined by a small number of other Jews within the next few years. In 1844 the community purchased a plot of land in the city’s Rose Hill Cemetery.  This burial ground was maintained by a voluntary group until it was absorbed by the synagogue Beth Israel in 1863.

The synagogue Kahal Kodosh Beth Israel was established in 1859, and its 78 members granted a charter by the Georgia state legislature. The dues were set at US$50 for a married man with an open business, US$25 for a laborer, and US$12 for a single man. It was agreed to follow the traditional German Orthodox minhag (ritual), with services held in Hebrew and German, and lectures given in German and English. A Torah scroll was purchased for US$250. The Rev. Henry Lowenthal, originally from London, but living in New Haven at the time, was hired as Rabbi, with a salary of US$700, but when his wife passed away within a year, he returned to England. Services were held in a rented space over a confectionary store.

During the American Civil War (1861-1865), a number of Jews from Macon drilled with the German Artillery Company, an organization of American citizens of German birth, supporting the Confederacy.

After the war, more Jews moved Macon. In 1866, 20 new members joined Beth Israel. In 1868 a religious school was organized with a curriculum in Hebrew, German, and English. A lot was purchased in the center of town for $500, and the members of the congregation began collecting funds to construct a building, which was dedicated in 1874. In 1879 a new Jewish cemetery was established on land donated by William Wolff.

The building of the synagogue brought about dissension in the community because a pipe organ was installed in the sanctuary. Some members split off to form a short-lived Congregation B’nai Israel and purchased land for a separate ground within the city cemetery.

In the last quarter of the 19th century, Jews found their place in the general Macon community, serving on the city council, joining civic clubs, taking an active role in the arts, politics, and social services. Jews helped establish the Macon Hospital and the board of trade.

For a brief period, Beth Israel went into a decline, with diminished funds, and with no rabbi or officers leading the congregation.  In 1890, it reorganized with 74 members, and in 1894 it hired Rabbi Isaac E. Marcuson, a graduate of Hebrew Union College.  He introduced liberal practices such as the removal of the rabbi’s hat during services, adopting the Union Prayer Book, and reaffiliating with the Reform movement’s Union of Hebrew Congregations which Beth Israel had joined for a brief period in the late 1880’s.  Marcuson played an active role in the general community, serving on the board of the Macon Public Library and the Boy Scouts, and as chairman of the Macon chapter of the American Red Cross. He also became prominent in the Reform movement on the national level.

In 1881 a small number of Eastern European Jews began arriving in Macon. They were tradesmen, including tinners, tailors, and trunk makers. These new immigrants were traditional in their religious practices.  In 1898 they established their own burial society, “The Hebrew Aid Society,” and in 1904 were granted a charter to incorporate Congregation Sherah Israel. Initially, the members met in rented halls until they were able to purchase a two-story house on Oak and Third Streets for US$5,000.

In 1902 Beth Israel constructed a new building on the corner of Spring and Cherry Streets.  A farmer’s market had grown up opposite its old location on Poplar Street, and the noise and clutter had created too great a disturbance to continue holding services. In 1903 the congregation was composed of 89 member families, 75% of German origin. Most were merchants dealing in dry goods, clothing, or shoes.

According to a 1909 survey by the Jewish Industrial Removal Office (IRO) (an agency assisting European Jewish immigrants to the US at the beginning of the 20th century), there were approximately 470 Jews (110 families) living in Macon. In addition to the two congregations, there was a local chapter of B’nai Brith and a Progress Club. The community included at least one doctor, one lawyer, a tannery, a saddle manufacturer, merchants, small traders, peddlers, working men, and a few cotton farmers.  According to the IRO report, Macon was a “fine city for Hebrew gentlemen” since kosher food was available. In March 1913 the IRO set up an official committee in Macon to help new immigrants find work.

During World War I members from both Beth Israel and Sherah Israel served in the US armed forces. Macon Jews raised money for the Jewish War Relief fund to help the suffering Jews of Europe.  After the War, Zionist groups began to form in the city and advocate for a Jewish state in Palestine. The Reform movement was opposed to the idea however, and Rabbi Marcuson wrote a letter to the Macon Daily Telegraph stating that “Jews are going to stay in America and remain good American Jews.”

In 1922 Sherah Israel dedicated a new building on Plum and First Streets. A Ladies Auxiliary was formed that played an active role in raising funds. The membership increased and enrollment in the Hebrew School grew.  Adult Bible classes were offered in Yiddish.

During World War II both Beth Israel and Sherah Israel hosted seders for servicemen stationed at Camp Wheeler in Macon and the Air Force base at Cochran field. Members of the congregations served in the armed forces and Rabbi Marcuson was appointed civilian chaplain.

In the late 1940s, Sherah Israel moved away from Orthodoxy and in 1949 joined the Conservative United Synagogue of America. The premises were expanded and remodeled over the next years. In 1974 the synagogue moved further to the left and began calling women to the Torah for Aliyot and counting them for a minyan. In 1999 it was decided to change the name of the congregation to Sha’arey Israel.

Beth Israel in the 1990’s began to move more to the right, combining elements of more traditional Judaism.

Augusta, GA

Augusta

A city on the Savannah River in the east central section of the State of Georgia, United States.

21st CENTURY

The Jewish population of Augusta is approximately 1300, less than 1% of the total general population. The community supports an active Jewish Federation and Jewish Community Center, as well as a Jewish Family Services organization. The city has a Reform congregation, the Children of Israel, a Conservative congregation, Adas Yeshurun, and a Chabad house.

In 2009 Children of Israel had a membership of 157 families and Adas Yeshurun 170, a considerable decline from the end of the previous century.  Because of a fall in the number of students to a total of 45, the Reform and Conservative congregations merged their religious schools to form the Augusta Jewish Community Sunday School, offering classes from kindergarten to seventh grade. Chabad runs a separate religious school open to all in the community.

In 2021 the Jewish Community Center downsized, selling its large complex, and made the decision to hold its programs in partnership with other local Jewish organizations.

Although its numbers are declining, there is a commitment by the community to preserve its heritage.  The year 2021 marked the opening of the Augusta Jewish Museum. It is housed in an 1860 Court building adjacent to the original congregation Children of Israel building, which is the oldest synagogue structure in Georgia that remains standing.  The city of Augusta had announced plans to demolish both buildings to make way for a municipal parking lot.  Leaders of Historic Augusta and friends and members of the Jewish community formed an alliance to restore the two buildings and transform them into a center of learning with exhibits and programming chronicling the life, history, and contributions of the Jewish community of the Central Savannah River Area. The center would also be a place for educating about the Holocaust and Israel. In 2022 there are plans to renovate the synagogue building into an event space attached to the museum.

HISTORY

The first recorded Jew to settle in Augusta was Isaac Hendricks, a trader in furs and hides who arrived in 1802 from Charleston, South Carolina. In 1825 he was joined by the Florence family and the families of Isaac and Jacob Moise.

The community first began to organize with the arrival of immigrants from Germany in the 1840’s.  In 1845 a group of five or six families established a religious school taught by the daughters of Isaac Hendricks and Jacob Moise in which eleven children were enrolled. In 1846 the group founded the B’nai Israel Hebrew Society.  Its charter stated that the congregation was made up of “the scattered Israelites” of Augusta, Georgia and neighboring Hamburg, South Carolina. Its purpose was communal worship and charity “toward our needy brethren.” The society was presented by Augusta city officials with a section of the Magnolia Cemetery for use as a burial ground.

According to an 1846 article written by Jacob Moise in the Occident, a monthly Jewish periodical published by the American religious leader Rabbi Isaac Leeser (1806-1868), the new B’nai Israel society was going to bolster Judaism in Augusta where Jews have been mingling with gentiles and intermarrying, and “their identity as a religious sect has been utterly destroyed.”

In 1847 a local banker, Isaac Henry, arranged for a building which the congregation could use for worship and learning. In 1851 a Reverend Mr. Marcassohm was hired as chazzan and spiritual leader, but he left soon after and converted to Christianity.  In 1852 the congregation leased at the corner of Greene and Jackson Streets a building which it was to occupy for the next 17 years. Readers of the Occident donated money to help B’nai Israel purchase a Torah scroll. Services were traditional, although they included some prayers in English, and there was a mixed choir.  The ritual included both Portuguese and Ashkenazi elements. The members began to call their synagogue by the English translation of B’nai Israel, the Children of Israel.

During the American Civil War (1861-1865) four members of the community died serving in the Confederate army, three of whom are buried in the Magnolia cemetery.

Like many other synagogues in the southern US, the Children of Israel began moving in the direction of Reform Judaism. In 1869 when the cornerstone was laid for a new building of their own on Telfair Street, Isaac M. Wise (1819-1900), the leader of the Reform Movement in the US, was the guest speaker. The cost of building the synagogue was $15,000. There were 44 members, 6% native born, 75% from Prussia, and less than 10% from Poland or Russia. The average age was 41, and 87% were merchants, most of them dealing in dry goods or clothing.  There was one shoemaker.

Within the last quarter of the 19th century a number of the members of the community developed successful businesses and became wealthy.  Some went into the professions, such as Samuel Levy who was judge of the probate court from 1866-1877 and served on the Augusta city council, C. Henry Cohen who was solicitor general of the superior court from 1877-1901, and Isaac Levy who held the position of sheriff.

In 1869 a chapter of B’nai Brith was founded and in 1879 a group of women started the Hebrew Ladies Aid Society. Members of the Jewish community also established an exclusive social organization, the Standard Club, with a swimming pool and billiard room.

Beginning in the 1880’s, Jews began to immigrate to Augusta from Eastern Europe, the majority from the town of Kobrin within the Russian Pale of Settlement.  These were Orthodox Jews and in 1889 five families organized a Minyan that met over a drugstore at 10th and Broad Streets at the home of Morris Steinberg. There was soon dissension among this small group. Because some of the members kept their businesses open on the Sabbath, those who disapproved broke away in 1890 to form another Minyan called the Keep Saturday Society. In 1891, a third group formed their own Minyan.  Later in the same year the three groups settled their differences sufficiently to rejoin and form Congregation Adas Yeshurun. According to its charter the purposes were “for mutual benefit and pleasure and to assist in charitable work.”

In 1895 Adas Yeshurun bought a lot on 10th Street, and with pledges of $10 from each of its 60 members and a mortgage, erected a building with a sanctuary on the main floor and a Hebrew school and mikveh in the basement.  In 1902 the congregation split once again over the issue of a shochet, but after several years reunited.

In 1907 the Jewish population of Augusta reached approximately 500. Adas Yeshurun had a membership of 65 families and Children of Israel 42.

In 1909 the women of Adas Yeshurun organized a sisterhood, the Daughters of Israel.  In 1914 the congregation moved to larger quarters, purchasing a former church building on Ellis Street. The building was refurbished with a balcony for women and a mikvah.  Until 1930 the meetings were conducted, and the minutes recorded, in Yiddish.  In 1944, for the first time, the congregation hired a rabbi, Henry Goldenberger. He introduced some changes, but the synagogue remained Orthodox, its 1949 constitution stipulating that “the Rabbi must be an ordained Orthodox Rabbi.”

Aaron Tanenbaum (1873-1967), who came to Augusta at the age of 16, was one of the leaders of Adas Yeshurun.  He was also an ardent Zionist, and the founder of Augusta’s Lovers of Zion, the first Zionist organization in the Southeast region of the US. He was a delegate to the 1901 World Zionist Congress. By 1907 Augusta had two Zionist organizations, the Lovers of Zion and the Daughters of Zion, as well as a chapter of the Jewish Socialist-Territorialist Labor Party.

In 1935 Adas Yeshuren and Children of Israel together founded a Young Men’s Hebrew Association (YMHA).  Its building on Greene Street became a social center for the Augusta Jewish community with athletic and theatrical programs. During World War II the building was used as a USO club for Jewish soldiers stationed at Camp Gordon. In the 1950’s it moved to Sibley Road and became known as the Jewish Community Center. It later built a larger facility on Weinberger Way.

The Children of Israel congregation in 1939 had 43 children enrolled in its religious school and in 1941 had a membership of 60 families. Numbers increased during World War II under the guidance of Rabbi Sylvan Schwartzman who led adult education classes, started an interfaith community forum, and served as chaplain at the local military base. There were 43 members of the congregation who served in the Armed Forces. By 1946 Children of Israel had grown to 105 families. In 1951 it moved into a new building on the corner of Walton Way and Bransford Road. By 1955 membership had grown to 142 families, and by 1963 there were 103 children in its religious school. Because of the growth of the congregation, in 1967 a new sanctuary, social hall, and kitchen were added to the existing building. In 1992 further renovations were made. In 1995 membership reached its peak at 225 families and  there was an enrollment of 140 children in the religious school. In 1996 a Machon Hebrew High School was organized.

Adas Yeshurun also grew in the second half of the 20th century. In 1954, after some dissension, it moved from downtown to Johns Road, a location in a neighborhood where most congregants had moved. At that time, it had 200 member families. It still remained an Orthodox synagogue and built a new mikveh in the 1960’s. In 1995, however, it officially joined the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism.

The Orthodox vacuum was filled by Chabad that opened a house in the community in 1996.