Anyone who gives earnest thought to the growth and development of the Jewish community of Chicago and its citizens, their number, their various places of origin, their activities, not only present but ever since they settled here in large numbers, is impressed with what they have achieved during a comparatively short time since they are here.
In the early 1880's, when the Jewish community began to show life and activity, the number of Jews residing in the confines of Chicago was small, and its was but natural that new arrivals should cling to their Landsleite, to those whom they knew in the Old Country, and to work out their problems in their new home together, with mutual respect and helpfulness.
Such social and cultural organizations, that sprung up mostly consisted of groups hailing from certain cities or countries. It was, in a certain sense, a transplantation of their former home to the New World and gradually adapting themselves to the customs, usages, and conditions of their new home. The new arrivals found in these organizations - lodges, societies, Synagogues, and clubs - a school as well as a social club and they found themselves at home among their former friends, neighbors and relatives from whence they hailed.
Criticism was hurled at such organizations, calling them "Clannish" and what not, but these critics did not realize just what it meant for the newcomers to find a lodge or a Synagogue where they found themselves among their own and where they could learn the language and the customs of their new home without being obliged to undergo untold miseries, and subjected to many humiliations and hardships. Thus we see flourishing "Russian" Synagogues, "Roumanian" Congregations, "Galician" aid societies, "Hungarian" unterstitzungs vereins.
As the influence of these organizations grew and manifested itself at every occasion, they left an impression the development of our great cosmopolitan city. They came in large numbers to match their idealism and their love for their ancestral faith and their adopted country and city, with that so splendidly exemplified by their Bavarian and Prussian predecessors, demonstrating, in common with them, that no finer citizenship is possible than that revealed by the Jewish inhabitants of this great western city.
And so when a number of Jews hailing from Hungary settled in Chicago in the early 1880's, they naturally gravitated to the west side, where they found their "landsleite" in large numbers and organized the First Hungarian Congregation to worship in unison and to help one another in every way possible. This congregation served as a guide for a large number of similar organizations that followed and exert a most potent influence on the communal development of Chicago Jewry.
On October 25th, 1884, the first meeting of the organizers of the Agudath Achim was held at the home of H. and B. Cohen at 213 Maxwell Street, east of Halsted Street. These Cohen brothers, not of Hungarian extraction but pious and true Jews, refused any remuneration but gave all possible assistance to these men who formed the new religious organization.
The meeting was attended by the following pioneers: Jacob Feuerlich, S. Goodfreund, Emanuel Schoen, Abraham Frisch, S. Weil, H. Cohen, B. Cohen, Joseph Zimet, Amron Newman, A. Friend, H. Stark, B. Tobias, L. Wackur, M. Grossman, Moritz Goldner.
These constituted the first officers and members which were later augmented by several more arrivals from various parts of Hungary.
For two years these men held regular daily services at that address, later moving to the home of M. Goldner at 498 South Halsted Street, near Bunker, where they remained until 1888.
In 1888 the Congregation bought a Baptist church located at 307 Maxwell Street (old number) west of Halsted Street, for the sum of $7,000.00. Mr. Louis Weber, then President, contributed $1,000.00 toward its purchase, which was, in those days, a very handsome contribution.
In 1903 the Congregation purchased 16 acres of cemetery lots in Glencoe, part of which was sold to the Chicago City Lodge, Brith Abraham. Realizing that the location was not desirable the lots were later sold to a farmer and the bodies removed to Waldheim, where the resting place of its members is today.
Negotiations with the Bikur Cholim to consolidate did not materialize because the members of the latter lived on the south side. One of the rules promulgated was that no one who does not observe strictly the sanctity of the Sabbath should be permitted to hold office in the Congregation.
The "Hungarian Congregation," as Agudath Achim was generally called, was noted for its order and decorum during the services. They made it a special rule and was strictly adhered to.
Rabbi Saul Bauer served the Congregation for a time as Cantor, teacher and Rabbi, until his resignation to assume a similar position with a north side congregation.
In 1903 Rabbi Moses Fisher was brought over from Hungary to assume the duties of spiritual leader of the Congregation which numbered among its members some of the most prominent men and women of the community. Rabbi Fisher came from a prominent family of Rabbis and his settling here was hailed as an omen for good by all Hungarians. He took an active interest in communal affairs and his influence was felt in the Congregation.
A religious school was supported ever since the organization of the Congregation. Its first teacher was A. Goldstein, who was followed by Rabbi Bauer, N. Amster, Moritz Newman, Ignatz Klein, H. Domb, B. Lowenstein, Jacob Klein and J. M. Weil.
In 1905 the Congregation outgrew its Maxwell Street location and purchased lots at the corner of Marshfield Avenue and Polk Street where they erected a beautiful Synagogue at the cost of $50,000.00, which was one of the finest in those days.
And even here in the large, spacious and beautiful Synagogue, it was not very long before the Congregation began to feel its need for moving again. For when the building was erected, Marshfield and Polk was considered a most desirable neighborhood, it gradually changed its atmosphere and the members began to move out.
Plans were set on foot to dispose of the Synagogue and build in another part of the city where a majority of the members live, the North Shore district predominating. A proposition was made to the Board of Directors by the North Shore Congregation Sons of Israel to consolidate and erect one big, beautiful Synagogue and worship together.
At first some opposition was manifested from members of both Congregations on the grounds that the diverse membership would not be able to work harmoniously. But the leading spirits of both organizations rose above such feelings, and realized that in the service of G‑d place of birth make little, if any, difference and all obstacles were overcome. Both groups displayed a remarkable and worthy attitude of give and take, or broadmindedness and fairness, to the credit of the Congregations they represented.
When President William McKinley died, memorial services were held at the Synagogue which attracted nationwide attention. Prominent men and women from every part of the city and nearby towns came to the Synagogue and listened to addresses by well-known speakers.
During the war, a "Roll of Honor" of the sons of the members who had joined the colors was dedicated amid impressive ceremonies. Patriotic addresses were made by Judges Henry Horner and Hugo Pam.
The Congregation was very active in Zionist work. It had a branch of its own, or a gate, as these branches were called, and did considerable work to foster the cause of Zion upon its members. Julius Zuckerman was for many years its President while Mr. Morris Newman served as Secretary.
Dr. Jacob Sonderling, a noted scholar and brilliant orator, hailing from Germany, was called to the pulpit which he filled most satisfactorily.
An unusually fine piece of work was undertaken by Morris Newman which will live for generations to come. He prepared a most beautiful book in which are engrossed in most artistic fashion the names of those members and their kin who have been called away to the far beyond. It is done so attractively and is so well kept that whoever sees that marvelous book realizes what a splendid ode it is and how masterfully well it is carried out. Mr. Newman has devoted a great deal of time and effort towards that magnificent memorial book, without any compensation whatever.
When the consolidation of both Congregations was consummated, Rabbi Fisher resigned to accept a pulpit in Detroit, Michigan.
Morris Van Gelder served the Congregation as Chairman of the Board of Directors and as Treasurer, enjoying the esteem and admiration of the members. A liberal contributor and a faithful worker.
Edward Katzinger, a liberal contributor to the Congregation, always ready and willing to do his share towards its needs. Presented a beautiful set of Scroll decorations made of solid silver, imported from Europe.
Moritz Winkler served as Vice President and in many other official capacities. A liberal contributor and a good worker for the Congregation.
D. M. Krauss, served the Congregation for a number of years as Sexton. Her was a unique character in many ways. A deep thinker, well versed in Talmudic lore, he was a teacher and spiritual guide for the members of the Congregation for over a generation. He was a loveable man and a congenial soul.
With the movement of Jewish residents from Lawndale and other parts of the city began towards the Edgewater district, known as the North Shore District, the neighborhood was sparsely settled. Jews in small numbers made their home here, living scattered and not knowing each other. When the High Holidays came around, however, the need for a place to hold a service manifested itself and the desire to organize for that purpose was in the air.
In the Fall of 1918 the idea of establishing a permanent place of worship took form. A group of men, well-known for their honesty of purpose and high-mindedness, and communal service, met on September 22nd and the North Shore Congregation Sons of Israel came into being.
The membership consisted of the following: Ben Stone, Isadore Liederman, I. Stein, J. Friedman, H. Krulewich, A. Preis, Leo Ginsburg, S. Benkow, A. Rosenfeld, M. Rifas, E. Brown, B. Kurzon, G. Lipman, Charles Lipsatz, B. Pritikin, P. H. Singer, H. Trager, H. White, S. Levin and R. Gorenstein.
The following officers were elected: Ben Stone, President; S. Benkow, Vice President; S. Levin, Secretary; H. Krulewich, Treasurer; I. Stein, A. Preis and H. Trager, Trustees.
The first place that services were held was located at 5029 Broadway. Daily services were conducted and a Hebrew school organized. The High Holidays that followed were held at a local hall to accommodate the residents of the entire neighborhood.
During the year 1920, a house and lot, with a sixty-foot frontage, located at 5029 Kenmore Avenue, was purchased with a view to build a Synagogue as soon as the necessary funds will be available. The Congregation moved into this house and held services regularly until the Fall of 1922, when the house was removed and ground broken for the erection of a new Synagogue.
On Sunday, March 11th, 1923, the dedication of the ground floor of the Synagogue building took place. It was the beginning of the first Orthodox Synagogue in the North Shore District. Owing to lack of funds the completion of the second floor was deferred. Thus the first floor was utilized for daily services, Sabbath School and Community Hall, all in one.
The First Hungarian Congregation Agudath Achim, on Marshfield Avenue and Polk Street, realizing the change of the neighborhood, sought a place to move where it would be nearer to the home of its members, a large number of them residing in the North Shore District.
Negotiations were opened between the North Shore Congregation and the Agudath Achim with a view of Consolidation. These negotiations were conducted and gradually all obstacles were swept aside, both parties animated by the lofty desire to serve their members and the community in general. The consolidation took place due to the tireless and conscientious efforts of the following members representing the North Shore Congregation: Ben Stone, Isadore Liederman, H. Waiss, I. Stein, Charles Levy, H. Krulewich, Max Handmacher, A. Z. Halperin, B. N. Platt, George Rosen and Oscar Levy.
The officers at the time of consolidation were: Isadore Liederman, President; H. Waiss, Vice President; Alex M. Golman, Secretary; H. Krulewich, Treasurer.
The success of any organization usually depends on the sacrifices and devotion of a few members and North Shore Congregation was fortunate to have a goodly number of self-sacrificing members who overcame every difficulty and surmounted every obstacle. Almost nightly they met and planned and discussed and gradually attracting to them other residents of the vicinity, so that when the consolidation took place, this meager group which started but a few years ago, counted a fairly good membership and a financial equity of over $60,000.00.
Oscar Levy, one of the early members, was a most ardent and loyal worker. His services on various committees were most valuable and not only did he contribute of his time, but was also a liberal donor as well. He is still serving the congregation most creditably.
H. Krulewich held the office of Treasurer from the time of organization until the election of his successor in 1925. Being a pioneer banker, he handled the funds of the Congregation in expert fashion, saving the Congregation considerable money. He assisted willingly in every possible manner and contributed liberally.
The following also deserve honorable mention for the part they have played, the services rendered and the sacrifices made in various capacities during the time they have been members of the Congregation: J. H. Schwimmer, M. Elkus, B. N. Platt, H. Alpert, J. Salita, H. Turk, M. Slepyan, Louis Rosen and George Rosen.
A few words of appreciation will not be amiss regarding the valuable services rendered by the Rabbis and the Sexton. S. Levin, one of the organizers of the North Shore Congregation, has been serving a Sexton, or Shames, from that time until the present date. To him, perhaps more than to any other person, is due the early success of the Congregation. Not only as Sexton but as teacher to the school children for a number of years, besides his other numerous duties, which he did well and wholeheartedly. He is liked by all who come in contact with him because of his innate intelligence and desire to please.
Rabbi David Almond served as Rabbi from 1920 to the time of consolidation. He and his good helpmate gave Hebrew instruction to the children of school age daily and Sundays. During his regime he helped organize a Junior Auxiliary and other most desirable activities. His scholarly lectures before the Seniors as well as the Juniors, during the Sabbath and Friday night services, were of great benefit and sincerely appreciated.
After 40 years of continued service on the West Side, the First Hungarian Congregation realized that since most of the members have moved away, it behooves them to seek plans to dispose of their present Synagogue at Marshfield and Polk, and build elsewhere, at a location more convenient for their members.
New communities sprung up in various parts of the city. The North Shore district, the Albany Park district, and other similar localities began to grow and flourish. Former residents of the so-called West Side moved into these neighborhoods and assumed a communal life.
The North Shore district already had a group of workers who built the ground floor of a spacious Synagogue preparatory to an addition above, waiting for an opportunity to be able to do that.
This opportunity came when negotiations began for a consolidation of both Congregations, the First Hungarian and the North Shore. A great deal of preliminary work was necessary. Both groups had different customs, different views and diverse opinions, and while both were sincere and honest in their views, it was pretty difficult to make compromises. The following committees who represented the two Congregations, deserve much credit for their untiring efforts to bring about consolidation:
For the First Hungarian Congregation: Isidor Feuerzlig, Wm. Feuerzlig, S. H. Fuerstenberg, M. Greenwald, Leopold Hubschman, Morris Newman, Ignatz Schwartz, Joseph Schwartz, Edward Stern, M. Winkler and M. W. Zuckerman.
For the North Shore Congregation: Max Handmacher, H. Krulewich, Charles Levy, Isidor Liederman, Oscar Levy, B. N. Platt, I. Stein and H. Waiss.
The name agreed upon was a combination of both names which is "Agudath Achim North Shore Congregation."
The consolidation took place on March 10th, 1923, with elaborate ceremonies and was officiated by Rabbi Dr. Sonderling, the spiritual leader of the First Hungarian Congregation. This union of two forces was looked upon as a step forward in the religious life of the community. It marked a new epoch which has had a most desirable influence on the city, as other Congregations began to look about to consolidate and several small, struggling organizations fused into live, active and forceful bodies, to the benefit of their own members and to the community at large.
Animated by a remarkable spirit of unity and friendship, the veterans of the Hungarian Congregation joined their new brethren, working jointly and happily in all undertakings. Hand in hand they joined forces in their service of their faith and their common heritage to the glory of all concerned.
As soon as both groups began to know each other and to understand each other, plans were set on foot to begin building the upper story of the Temple proper and the following committee was appointed:
Building Committee: Joseph Schwartz, Chairman; Morris Newman, Honorary Chairman; Edward Stein, Secretary; M. Van Gelder; Charles Levy; S. H. Fuerstenberg; Isidor Liederman; Isidor Feurzeig; Joseph Pador; William Feurzeig; Morris Sevin; M. Fuchs; Ignatz Schwartz; A. Z. Halperin; J. H. Schwimmer; M. Handmacher; H. Waiss; Morris W. Zuckerman.
With untiring efforts and unselfish devotion this committee attacked its task. Led by President Leopold Hubschman, who worked night and day, stopping at no sacrifice, the committee was fortunate to complete an edifice which will redound to the glory of the Jews not only of Chicago but of the entire country. Mr. Joseph Pador, a conscientious and high-minded member of the Congregation, was asked to superintend the construction of the Temple, and he began work with a zeal seldom seen. Everything was under his personal care and vigilance, from a nail in the basement, to the color scheme of the ceiling, nothing escaped his watchful eye, doing all the work gratis.
The same is true of the architects, Dubin & Eisenberg, who were also caught by the spirit, did not consider this building as merely a "job" but put in their best effort to produce a house of worship pleasant to the eye within and without, stopping at nothing in their efforts to produce a monumental piece of work, and they have succeeded most admirably.
Mr. Newman, the "Grand Old Man," as he is generally and lovingly called, though advanced in years, spared himself nothing. In warm weather as well as on stormy days, he was on hand to cheer the good work along. Here with a Talmudic proverb, there with a legend, always in place and in time, inspiring the workers, guiding and leading them to their goal.
To finance this great project was no small matter. A. Z. Halperin did yeoman service in securing the necessary banking connections, making a loan for the needed money under most favorable conditions, and the work began with a vim seldom seen in such enterprises.
President Hubschman had a difficult task to perform. To his lot fell the duty to cement both factions which were foreign to one another, coming from different environments with different points of view, and it needed a great deal of diplomacy to accomplish what he wanted to. He gained the confidence of both groups because of his sincerity and honesty of purpose and realizing that his sole aim was to organize a force for good in the community, they followed him implicitly, resulting in much good for the Congregation and enabling it to accomplish in a short time what it generally takes other similar organizations years and years of hard toil and struggle.