Wednesday, April 15, 2020

Syracuse Jewish Sites IV: The First Synagogue Buildings of Temple Concord

Syracuse, NY. First purpose-built home of Temple Society of Concord. E. T.  Hayden, architect, 1851 (demolished).
Syracuse, NY. Building Committee plaque from first purpose-built Temple Society of Concord. It was visible immediately inside the entrance of the first synagogue. Now it is installed at Concord's home at University Avenue and Madison Street.  Photo: Samuel Gruber 2019.

Syracuse Jewish Sites IV: The First Synagogue Buildings of Temple Concord

(Note: I have looked at Temple Concord records and old newspapers and maps for this account, but much of it is based on the indispensable account of Syracuse Jewish history: B. G. Rudolph, From a Minyan to a Community (Syracuse: Syracuse Univ. Press, 1970). The book, while lacking a lot of the texture of the diverse Syracuse Jewish community after 1900, provides a  detailed early history of the Temple Society of Concord).

Syracuse’s first Jewish congregation, Temple Society of Concord, was founded by German-speaking Jews in 1839 and it still survives through congregational splits and physical moves. In 2019, the venerable congregation voted to sell its landmark classical-style building, dedicated in 1911, in order to have some financial security to continue as a congregation. The sale of the property and its development for luxury student housing (the site is almost adjacent to Syracuse University) is still being reviewed, and it is unknown what will be the final outcome.

This article is about the earlier history of Temple Concord and the buildings its members occupied before the dedication of the present structure in 1911. Concord, one of the oldest Jewish religious congregations in the United States, has a history that is fairly typical of many American congregations. It was founded in 1839 by German-speaking immigrants drawn to upstate New York by the new economic opportunities offered by the Erie Canal, which opening 1825. Syracuse prospered as the center point of the Canal, and the first Jewish minyan (prayer group) of 1839 grew by 1850 into a substantial Jewish community of 100 families. In one decade, Temple Society of Concord outgrew its temporary home three times.

The small group of men first met in a back room of a local store, but soon moved to better quarters. They first relocated to the second floor of a member’s home on Mulberry Street and by 1841 they hired their first "rabbi," although he was not formally trained or ordained. At this time the minyan incorporated and first took the name “Comrades of Peace” and later Keneseth Shalome. This Hebrew name translated into the fulsome English language of the time. Shalom became Concord, and the congregation incorporated as the Temple Society of Concord. 180 years later the congregation survives with the same legal name, which it has shortened to Temple Concord for practical reasons.

Temple Concord's congregants weren't the only Jews in town. By 1844 a second minyan, named Beth Israel, was formed by Eastern European Jews, and this group was augmented by English Jews by 1854. This group would erect a synagogue on Grape Street in 1856.

In 1842 the still-new Temple Concord congregation purchased land at the edge of the Rose Hill Cemetery on Lodi Street as the area's first Jewish burial ground (this remained the primary burial ground for the congregation until three acres were purchased in Woodlawn Cemetery in 1893). Having fulfilled this responsibility, the congregation was then ready in 1846 to purchase its first permanent home; a house on the corner of Mulberry and Madison streets which was extensively remodeled for synagogue use.


Rabbi Isaac Mayer Wise as a young man. Photo: American Jewish Archives.
Rabbi Isaac Mayer Wise (1819-1900), then only 27 years old and recently arrived as a rabbi in Albany, came to dedicate the new house of worship. He described his visit to Syracuse in his memoirs (notes by B. G. Rudolph):
These gentlemen, who had been delegated by the congregation to call upon me, took me to Gerson's kosher hotel [Jacob Garson's boardinghouse], where I spent two weeks. I can recall the name of one of them, a Mr. Henochsberg [Aaron Henocksburg]. The builder had not finished the synagogue at the promised time, and the dedication had to be postponed one week.

During my stay in Syracuse I learned much of importance, for it was my first opportunity for intimate contact with the people among whom I was to live and work, and I had ample time to observe and study them. It did not take me long to view the salt-works, the Indi­ans, the canal, and other sights. ... I found there several people of culture, notably a Mr. Stein [Jacob Stone], a most intelligent man who explained the situation thoroughly. He was as witty as he was intelli­gent; he was well read, and understood human nature. He took charge of me, introduced me to the people, called my attention to their merits and their faults, so that I began to comprehend the lay of the land.

The dedication took place on the Friday and Saturday preceding the Jewish New Year in 1846, and was a great and joyous festival for the Jews of Syracuse. Everything passed off well, and the newspapers teemed with praise. All my instructions had been obeyed with one ex­ception, viz; to omit a certain prayer on Sunday morning, called Makhnise Rachamin. I was completely satisfied with Syracuse, and contributed, to the best of my ability, to the success of the celebration and the organization of the congregation.
It only took a few years, however, for the congregation to outgrow what really was just a house of worship and to begin planning a new purpose-built synagogue. They found a good corner site at Harrison and Mulberry (now State) Streets, engaged a leading local architect for the job, and the new building was ready for dedication on September 20, 1851.

Syracuse, NY. G.M. Hopkins, Atlas of the City of Syracuse New York, 1908, dtl plate 2. Location of first purpose-built home of Temple Society of Concord at Harrison and Mulberry (lower left), now site of Everson Museum of Art with street names changed to Harrison and State.
Syracuse, NY. G.M. Hopkins, Atlas of the City of Syracuse New York, 1908, dtl plate 2. Location of first purpose-built home of Temple Society of Concord (1851) at Harrison and Mulberry (State). The Rosenbloom Shul (1887), is located on Orange Street (McBride) just south of Madison Street, on the right of the map detail.

We know most of the details of the processions, orations, services of dedication and celebration. The events were covered repeated in the local press, with a mix of intense pride and intense curiosity. Syracuse at the time was a very German city, so the ceremonies of the German-speaking immigrants - whether they were Jewish or not - fit right in the cultural climate of the time. In the mid-19th century there were greater tensions between Protestants and Catholics than between Christian and Jews. The numbers of Jew were still small and their communities industrious and civic-minded, and so, despite some violence against Jewish peddlers in rural areas, the establishment of synagogues in cities was always welcome.

We are especially fortunate to have a detailed account of the dedication from a learned and authoritative Jewish perspective. The published account by Rev. Dr. Isaac Leeser offers one of the most comprehensive descriptions of a mid-19th century synagogue dedication to come down to us. And it all happened because some correspondence went unanswered, or wasn't sent, or got lost in the mail. Many dignitaries attended the two-day dedication ceremonies. Importantly, Leeser, America’s leading Jewish religious and intellectual figure, attended and then published a lengthy account of visit and the events in The Occident and American Jewish Advocate (September 1851). Leeser was originally intended to preside, but as notice of his coming never arrived the congregation invited another rabbi, and yet a third was passing through town. So Leeser, who arrived at the last moment, consented to a spectator.

Leeser took good notes. He quotes the cornerstone in its entirely. The tablet lists Temple Trustees and Building Committee (Jacob Stone, I. H. Bronner, H. Ekstine, I. Garson. M. Marks, E. Ettenheimer, M. Cone, A. Henochsberg, S. Oppenheimer, J Silberman, S. Rosenbach, S. Bamberger, M. Goldstein, M. Weisman, S. Manheimer), and lists Elijah T. Hayden (1809-1901) as architect and G. Blumer as builder. 

Hayden was not just an important Syracuse architect. He was also a leading abolitionist before the Civil War.

The architect distinguished himself with important Greek Revival buildings, but his Temple Concord was an eclectic mix of classical, Romanesque, and Gothic styles.  It had a large cupola - but this blew over in a storm in 1856 and was not replaced. An undated photo -- post cupola - shows a round stained-glass window with a Star of David above the entrance as well as a Hebrew inscription above the doorway – both would have been new sights to Syracusans.
 
Syracuse, NY. Building Committee plaque from first purpose-built Temple Society of Concord, now installed at Temple Concord's third home at University Avenue and Madison Street.  Photo: Samuel Gruber 2019.

A newspaper article published a few days before the dedication gushed:
“This beautiful building … is one of the most beautiful structures in our city and is an ornament to the section of the city in which it is situated. Our Jewish population are among the most industrious and frugal of our citizens and their beautiful house of worship will doubtless be an inducement for others of the same creed to make this city a permanent residence...” [“The Jewish Synagogue” Standard, 9-15-1851].
Indeed, already by 1854, according to The Israelite newspaper, there were 180 Jewish families living  in Syracuse.  And in fifty years, even with new congregations in the city, it would be time to build an even bigger Temple Concord.

The women of the congregation were enlisted to create and provide the decorations for the interior – and for this they apparently reached out to Christian women in the community, too, as is reported in a newspaper article of June 1851. We can wonder what these “decorations” were. Perhaps curtains, cushions, carpets and other fittings and finishes.
Jews Synagogue
We notice that a subscription paper is circulating among the ladies of our city, the purpose of securing assistance in ornamenting the new Synagogue now in course of erection on the corner of Mulberry and Harrison Streets. In this enterprise our Jewish citizens have been quite successful, but their ladies being few in number, they solicit the donations of others. For the procuring those ornaments necessary to the finishing of the interior. It is a worthy object and we heartily commend it to the liberality of the ladies of this city.”  Standard 6-23-1851
As plans for the new synagogue moved forward, congregants disagreed about the organization of the liturgy and performance of ritual. This was a scenario that was playing out in congregations across America, but would accelerate after the Civil War.

These were the years when Jewish religious Reform was advancing in America. Many congregations were experimenting – often in ad hoc way - with simplifying and adjusting their services often in emulation of contemporary American Protestant worship. The building committee found itself in the center of these discussions since many “reforms” would  impact  the building's design, especially seating and the arrangement  the Ark and bimah.

Older members of the congregation preferred, for the most part, to retain  traditional practices, which today we would call Orthodox. Newcomers, many who had emigrated to America after 1848, when Reforms had already taken hold in Germany and elsewhere in Central Europe, wanted reforms. These new members and younger American-born congregants were attracted to the movement of Rabbi Isaac Mayer Wise, now based in Cincinnati, but whom many remembered from his visit to Syracuse.

The reform-minded wanted family seating in pews instead of separation by gender. They favored an arrangement similar to what was common in Protestant churches. They favored an increased decorum, with pews arranged off of an central aisle and the reader's desk placed at the front of the sanctuary facing the congregation, set close to the Ark. They also advocated shortening services by eliminating prayer repetition, and advocated for other liturgical changes.

The result was a compromise. Galleries were erected around three sides of the new temple to separate women  from the men and a (modern) ritual bath (mikvah), with hot and cold water, was built in the basement. These steps met the expectations of the more "Orthodox" members. To satisfy the reformers the ground floor seating was arranged in a more church-like style, and the bimah, pulpit and Ark were all united at the far end of the sanctuary along a straight axis from the entrance.

Leeser in his a long account of the dedication, which can be read in full here, points out several interesting aspects of the new synagogue's design, which was
....a large, roomy, and lofty house, every way worthy to serve as a place for the dwelling of the God of Jacob. It is, from the front to the rear wall, sixty-four feet in length, of which twelve feet are appropriated for the vestibule and stairways, leaving the entire length of the main Synagogue fifty-two feet. The width is forty-eight feet; but, as the gallery on the west extends over the entry, the ceiling covers the whole length, so that the breadth just named is in perfect harmony with the other dimensions. There is a gallery running along three sides, and an upper one for the choir, whenever they shall have it, on the west, fronting the ark.
The ceiling is vaulted over the side galleries, and from them springs another vault over the centre, giving a beautiful finish to the whole. From the middle of this is suspended a beautiful glass chandelier, the metal work of which is of gilt lacquer, and it has forty-two gas-burners, in three tiers. It was manufactured by the Messrs. Cornelius, of this city, at a cost of four hundred dollars, and, from its loftiness and graceful proportions, is a real ornament to the building.
The seats are disposed of in two rows, with a broad walk between them, and a narrower margin on the sides, and are divided off in the centre, in the form of church pews, but without any doors. The portion near the ark is semicircular, as are also the step leading thereto and the ark itself, over which is a handsome stained-glass window, on which are inscribed the initial portions of the ten commandments. 
 Leeser regrets that there is no independent reader's stand, finding instead
...a sloped reading-table within the limits of the balustrade which surrounds the ark; within which are also two sofas for the President and Vice-President of the Congregation. There is also a movable pulpit, which can be placed when required within the opening of the balustrade just named, so that the preacher may face the audience.
The wood-work down stairs is painted in imitation of black walnut, whereas the columns and gallery are of a neutral colour, the walls being plain white. There are five windows on each side of the house, four of which are in the main Synagogue and one in the entry. The material used is for the basement blue limestone, and brick for the superstructure.
A flight of stone steps lead to the main entrance, where we saw a tablet bearing the names of the officers ....
He also describes that in the lofty basement
is a dwelling for the sexton, a meeting-room for the congregation, and a schoolroom; besides a Mikveh, supplied with hot and cold water. The school and meeting-rooms are so arranged with folding doors that, upon an occasion requiring it, they can be transformed into a large hall, well-lighted, running the entire length of the main building.
This last point is remarkable, as it pushes back by almost a century an innovation in religious architecture design that is often attributed to the post-World War II generation, i.e. folding doors to create flexible space. While I do know of several turn-of-the-20th century occurrences of this arrangement, Leeser's account is the oldest known to me.

Everyone was satisfied enough with the design compromises to turn out for a joyous dedication, but the rift in the congregation between traditionalists and reformers was again soon apparent but got worse after 1860. The country was divided during the Civil War, and so was the congregation. There was no peace at Concord. The Reformers, made their case in the pages of Rabbi Wise's national Jewish newspaper The Israelite. They went ahead an introduced organ music, a choir singing, English translation of prayers, and mixed seating.  The rift culminated when the reformers, led by president Joseph Falker, decreed that all men should take their hat OFF during services, and they also double annual dues to penalize the poorer - and more traditional - congregants.

According to the traditionalists:
"impure elements forced their way into [the congregation]. creating quarrels, enmity, lawsuits, and finally separation, through the unlucky choice of a president, who, like a Bavarian petty official, agitated and through low intrigues, heaping wrong upon wrong, deprived the members of their holiest right. (quoted in Rudolph, p. 69).
Subsequently, on June 6, 1864 a new congregation was formally organized by the old guard. Leopold Schwartz and Morris Thalheimer laid out the grievances of the group against the Concord congregation, and this was published in the The Occident and American Jewish Advocate and the Adath Jeshurun Congregation received a charter in March 1866. The new minyan met in a one-story building on Harrison Street.

Syracuse, NY. Adath Jeshurun (The Rosenbloom Shul).  Photo from Rudolph, From a Minyan to a Community, original courtesy Onondaga Historical Association.
Solomon Rosenbloom. Oil portrait in Collection of Temple Concord. Photo: Samuel Gruber 2019.
Solomon Rosenbloom, who had arrived in Syracuse from Bavaria in 1847, was part of the split, and in the 1880s, as his department store business prospered, he became the lead funder of a new synagogue building on Orange Street in 1887. Adath Jeshurun, with a stone foundation and wood frame construction with wood siding, came to be known as the ""Rosenbloom Shul," and Solomon was president of the congregation for twenty-five years. He died in 1896, but the congregation continued until 1925, after which surviving members of the Rosenbloom family rejoined Temple Concord.

The new Rosenbloom Shul seated 256, and there were classrooms in the basement space which was elevated enough above ground to receive ample natural light.

In 1909 Temple Concord purchased parcel of land at the corner of Madison Street and University Avenue and began planning their present-day building which was dedicated on September 22, 1911. In 1912, the congregation sold 1851 building to a new Orthodox congregation, Tifereth Israel.  (“Teffaree Yisreal Purchases Synagogue,” The Syracuse Herald,  Feb. 24, 1912). The building is shown on the map of 1924 and again is visible in an aerial photo of 1931, but is gone in the City Atlas of 1938. I'll have to wait until I can do on-site library research to determine the exact date of its demolition.

Syracuse, NY. G.M. Hopkins, Atlas of the City of Syracuse New York, 1938. The former Temple Concord, then Tifereth Israel, has been demolished.
For more on Syracuse's Jewish Sites and Buildings see other entries in this series:

Former Beth Israel

Former Anshe Sfard 

Former Temple Beth El 

Coming soon: A look at the other early synagogue buildings of Syracuse, and a close look at the history and architecture of the present-day Temple Concord.

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