Our Rabbis

Agudas Achim North Shore Congregation, founded October 26, 1884
Compiled by Rabbi Philip Lefkowitz, January 2013

The pulpit of Agudas Achim North Shore Congregation has been graced by a rather diverse and fascinating group of rabbis. Reform, Conservative, Orthodox and Chasidic Rabbis have served our congregation over the years. This begs the question, what was the unique quality of this congregation that resulted in such a wide array of rabbis?

The answer would appear to be that, while adhering to the Orthodox tradition, the congregation nevertheless, aspired to the decorum, and dignity found in the Reform Temple. Agudas Achim was known for many years for its dignified services, officiated at by Rabbi, Cantor and choir. Its dedication service in 1925 was lead by Rabbi Dr. Jacob Sonderling and Cantor Yosele Rosenblatt and his choir. The congregation sought out rabbis immersed in the general culture of America and desirous of being involved in a dynamic way in society as a whole. We hope you will enjoy this walk down memory lane as we introduce you to the rabbis of Agudas Achim North Shore Congregation.

We have attempted to gather as much information about our Rabbis as we could. We would very much appreciate any additional information that you can provide. Please direct that information to me.

1884-1888: Rev. Jacob Freulicht

Rev. Freulicht was the first President of Agudath Achim. He led the religious services for several years.

1888: Rabbi Dr. Ignatz Grossman (1825-1897)

Rabbi Grossman officiated at the dedication of the Torah for the newly formed synagogue in a hall on the corner of LaSalle and Adams streets in 1888.

Rabbi Grossman was born in Trencsen Hungary on July 30, 1825. He received his education at the yeshiva of Pressburg, receiving a bachelor of literature from the University of Cincinnati and ordination and Doctor of Divinity, at Hebrew Union College, Cincinnati.

In 1863 he became the Rabbi to the city of Kornitschan, Moravia and in 1868 became the Rabbi of Warasdin, Croatia. He came to the United States in 1873. He spent 12 years serving as a Rabbi in Chicago, from 1880-1885 at Bnai Abraham whereupon he moved to Brooklyn, New York where he became the Rabbi of Congregation Beth Elohim. In total, he served 40 years in the rabbinate, 17 years in Hungary and 23 years in the United States

He authored Drei Predigten, Warasdin, 1868, Drei Sprache der Wahrheit, 1870, Mikraot Ketanot, Cincinnati, 1892. This last work is a collection of the 613 commandments with their Biblical bases, Rabbinical definitions and moral lessons.

His sons:

1888-1890: Rabbi Solomon H. Bauer (1864-1913)

Rabbi Bauer was born on January 1, 1863 in Poland, the son of Abraham Jacob Bauer. He was educated in Stettin, Germany, the Yeshiva in Warsaw, Poland and at Rabbi Dr. Azriel Hildesheimer’s Rabbinical Seminary in Berlin, Germany. At the Konighliche Hochschule fur Kirche und Schule at Stetettin, he received a certificate to serve as Prediger und Lehrer in Elementary-Schulen, receiving his rabbinical diploma from Rabbi I. Trunk, Kutno, Poland. Known during his lifetime as “the Rabbi of the Diaspora” – Rabbi Israel Jehoszua Trunk, also called Rav Joszele (he was born in 1821 and died in 1892). At the age of 20, he was appointed rabbi of Szrensk. Later, he was rabbi in several congregations and finally rabbi of Kutno, where he also was head of a large Yeshiva. His rabbinical interpretations, published in the form of questions and answers, or heard at religious courts, were accepted by rabbis in Poland and outside. His whole life, he was faithful to the idea of settlement in the Land of Israel and emigrated in 1885 with his son-in-law, the rabbi of Kalisz, Rabbi Chaim Eliezer Waks. With money from donations they bought houses in Jerusalem and turned them into residential religious colleges (“Kollel”). They also promoted the planting of an orchard for etrog fruit (note: citron, ritual fruit used for Succot) near Tiberias and proclaimed their preference for the etrog grown in the Land of Israel over the etrog grown in Corfu. In the “shmita” (fallow) year 1889, Rabbi Jehoszua Trunk was allowed to cultivate the fields on condition that he participated in the permission granted to another great religious scholar of that time, Rabbi Ytzhak Elchanan Spector from Kowno. In 1873, he published his works “Chossen Mishpat” and “Yeshuot Yisrael”. His other books, for example “Yeshuot Malcho”, and “Yevin Daat”, were published after his death, in 1921-1922, by his grandson Rabbi Icchak Jehuda Trunk. Many years after his death, stories circulated about the quick wit and sharpness in arguments of Rabbi Jehoszua.

Rabbi Bauer was Rabbi at Jacobsagen and Wronke, Germany. He came to the United States in 1885 serving congregations in Patterson, New Jersey, Schenectady, New York, Hamilton, Ohio. In Chicago he served our congregation for three years, then the Moses Montefiore Congregation for five years and until his death, August 9, 1913, for nearly 10 years, Congregation Anshe Emet of Chicago.

1890-1896: Rabbi Julius Newman (1851-1920)

Born on December 16, 1851 in Hungary, son of Joseph Newman, Rabbi Newman was educated at Budapest, Eissenstadt, and Pressburg in Hungary. He received his Rabbinical Diploma from Rabbi Schreiber (Sofer) of Pressburg and Rabbi Dr. Aziel Hildesheimer of Eissenstadt. Arriving in Chicago in 1880, Rabbi Newman served Congregation Emanuel for five years, congregation New Light for two years and our congregation for six years. For fifteen years he was Rabbi of the Moses Montefiore Congregation at Thomas and N. Robey Streets.

He served in the Austrian army, 1871-1873, as a postmaster in Hungary for two years and as a correspondent for a Vienna newspaper for two years.

1896-1918: Rabbi Moses Yehudah Fisher (1875-1948)
– our synagogue’s first full-time Rabbi

Rabbi Moses Yehudah Fisher was born into a scholarly family in Paks, Hungary. His father was Rabbi Amram Fisher, Rabbi Amram Fisher was born in 1853 to his father Rabbi Akiva Fisher, a student of the Chasam Sofer. He studied by his father, by Rabbi Oinchos Elya Ostreicher – Ozlreiner (the Dayan of Oyven Yashan), by Rabbi Dr. Azriel Hildesheimer, by Rabbi Avraham Eliezer Zev Alt (Rabbi of Kobersdorf), Rabbi Chaim Tzvi Monheimer (Rabbi of Ungvar), and by the Shevet Sofer. He was the son-in-law of Rav Eliezer Zusman Sofer, Rabbi of Halash and Paks. After his marriage in 1873, he became a Dayan in Halash with his father-in-law and in 1878 was appointed to head the Beis Din of DenDek. In 1879 he was appointed as head of the Beis Din of Yanak. There he remained until his passing on 18 Nissan 1925, buried in Yanak. In 1966, his bones were exhumed and reinterred in Jerusalem on Har Hamenuchos. He wrote Divrei Amram, included in the back of his father’s book Ateres Akiva.

His sons were:

His son-in-law was Rav Elozor Singer, a Dayan in Rima Sambat and a student of the Daas Sofer.

Rabbi Moses Fisher studied under Rabbi Yeshaya Zilberstein, the Dayan of Viatzen, and under his grandfather Rabbi Eliezer Zusman Sofer, the Dayan of Paks.

In 1895 our congregation contacted the great Rabbi Simcha Sofer, known as the Shevet Sofer of Pressburg, Bratislava, to provide our Synagogue with a full-time Rabbi. Rabbi Sofer found no one who was more suitable and competent for this post than his pupil Rabbi Moses Fisher, on whom he had conferred ordination. The Rabbi was welcomed at a festive gathering to Agudas Achim. Speakers included his father, Rabbi A. Fisher, Rabbi Dr. Felsenthal of Oak Park Temple, and Rabbi Abraham Braude of Congregation Anshe Shalom.

Rabbi Fisher devoted all of his time to the task of improving and consolidating our congregation and the greater Jewish community of Chicago. Thanks to his active work, the congregation soon began to grow, and in 1903 its membership built a large synagogue on Marshfield Avenue and Polk Street.

At that time, when Chicago Jewry was just beginning to grow and expand, Rabbi Fisher participated in the development of Orthodox Jewry in the city, helping with all his energy and sincerity to strengthen it and to direct the course of those institutions which sought to administer to those who were deficient in Jewish faith and Jewish knowledge.

Rabbi Fisher was instrumental in founding the Home for the Aged, of which he was the director, the Federated Charities, for which he also acted as director, the Mount Sinai Hospital, Hebrew Theological College, and other institutions. In addition to these great causes, he devoted a large part of his time to Adas Bnai Yisrael, an Orthodox youth organization, the goal of which was to attract the Jewish youth to the Jewish people and Jewish traditions. Rabbi Fisher was also a participant in the Zionist movement.

Not only a Hebrew sage but a man of considerable secular knowledge as well, Rabbi Fisher was a scholar in the best sense of the term. He was a very prominent civic leader, helped build this community and contribute a great deal to its development rendering great services in every field of communal life. Always a conscientious man, he had a serious attitude towards work In 1923 Rabbi Fisher left Chicago to become Rabbi of Congregation Bnai Moshe in Detroit which he served until his passing.

In an article in the Daily Jewish Courier, a Yiddish newspaper printed in Chicago, Rabbi Fisher told reporters that “I regret that I must leave the Jewish community of Chicago, which has many large Jewish institutions. I refer particularly to the Hebrew Theological Seminary, where I had hoped to educate my children. I envy the rabbis and civic leaders who are privileged to continue their work for Jewish knowledge. I hope that G-d will give me an opportunity to build such institutions in my new circle of influence.”

1918-1923: Rabbi David Almond (1870-1956)

Rabbi David Almond was the eldest of eleven children, born on October 10, 1870 to Rabbi Gabriel of Shereshev (1844-1897) and his wife Haya. Rabbi Almond’s original family name was Pruzhinsky, adopted from the landowner on whose estate the rabbi’s forebears had established themselves as administrators and rabbinical scholars by the mid- eighteenth century. Rabbi Almond changed his family name while he was studying at the Jews’ College in London. He defended his decision to two brothers by evoking the delightful flavor of the nut, by pointing out that it offered an easy way for the brothers to identify each other after they would all have gone their separate ways, and finally, by arguing that the name would allow David to be among the first candidates called for the College’s regular examinations.

Originally, Rabbi Almond was to have followed his family’s tradition, initiated by Rabbi Aaron Leff of Lapiniza (1740-1800), in which eldest sons were destined for a life of Talmudic study. But in his narrative genealogy, Rabbi Almond recalls the advice that prompted him to aim beyond this life, which would have isolated him from the real world in which Judaism was always evolving. At the age of sixteen, after years of study under the tutelage of his father and the rabbis at the yeshiva of Brisk, Rabbi Almond was sent to study with his great-uncle, Rabbi Shmuel, Gaon of Mizerich, Poland (1822-1900). “The Talmud may be compared to the ocean where many ships cross and yet not come into collision,” he wrote. “My great-uncle gave me to understand that the sages offered two approaches to Talmudic study. One method is the penetrating study by the ardent student who may well lose himself in the depths of the Talmudic sea, seeking pearls at the bottom of the ocean. But another method is to be the light swimmer on the surface, delivering merchandise for the immediate need of those awating at the seashore. My uncle advised me to betake myself to the practical study, to dive and delve into the codes of the four Turim.”

This advice to place the study of Judaism within the study of law as a cornerstone of civilization led Rabbi Almond to study in England. Arriving in London in his early twenties, he was befriended by Dr. and Mrs. Solomon Schechter, and received a stipend from the Moses Montefiore Fund for tuition at Jews’ College (later the London School of Jewish Studies) and London University in the program of combined study leading to rabbinical ordination and a university degree in religious studies. In 1905, after graduating from London University, he emigrated from England to the United States. He served as rabbi at Congregation B’nei Israel from 1909 to 1911. He took a leave of absence from the rabbinate to pursue the study of law he had begun as part of his religious studies with Rabbi Shmuel, and in 1916, he received the degree of LLD from the John Marshall Law School in Chicago. He was admitted to the bar in 1918. He returned to the rabbinate in 1918, serving the North Shore Congregation B’nei Israel until its consolidation with The First Hungarian Congregation Agudath Achim in 1923. He then led several congregations on Chicago’s South Side and devoted himself to Talmudic study and writing. At the time of his death in May 1956, he was living in Venice, California, near his brother Ben and his daughter Rosalind. Until the end, he maintained a strict and unvarying daily routine of Talmud study, prayer, writing and physical exercise. His books, God Exists, Ontonomy and Out of Chaos, are collections of essays that examine the experience of faith in the context of secular history.

1923-1925: Rabbi Dr. Jacob Sonderling (1878-1964)

The following was gathered from “Five Gates” - general notes for an autobiography by Jacob Sonderling

Born on October 19, 1878, at Lipine, Silesia, to Wilhelm and Johanna Lebowitsch Sonderling, Rabbi Sonderling came from a family of Hungarian and Galician Chasidim. Johanna Lebowitsch’s family had produced the Yismach Mosheh, the founder of Hungarian Chasidism. Wilhelm Sonderling had been ordained by the Sanzer Rebbe.

After studying at the Universities of Vienna and Breslau as well as at seminaries in Vienna, Breslau, and Berlin, Jacob Sonderling received his Ph.D. degree from the University of Tiibingen in 1904 and was ordained by Dr. Baruch Jacob Placzeck, Landesrabbiner of Moravia and Chief Rabbi of Briimz. That same year, at Breslau, he married Emma Klemann,who would bear him three sons - Egmont, Fred, and Paul. Four years later, Dr. Sonderling became the preacher of Hamburg’s celebrated Israelitischer Tempel Verein, Hamburg Temple, the cradle of Reform Judaism serving together with Rabbi David Leimdorfer. He held that pulpit until his emigration to America in 1923, although his tenure in Hamburg had been interrupted during the First World War, when he served as a German Army chaplain on Field Marshal Paul von Hindenburg’s staff. The German Army’s Drang nach Osten brought Dr. Sonderling into close contact with the Jewish world in Lithuania.

After serving our synagogue Dr. Sonderling went to Los Angeles where he founded the Fairfax Temple and helped Jewish immigrants with music commissions. He remained Rabbi of this congregation until his death.

Dr. Sonderling’s description of how he became the Rabbi of our synagogue is fascinating and speaks to those times when an Orthodox American, Austro Hungarian congregation was trying to bridge the dignity of the Reform Temple service of the day with the traditional beliefs of Orthodoxy. Dr. Sonderling writes:

... An old friend of mine, Shmarya Levine, met me at 111 5th Ave., the Zionist headquarters.

“What are you doing here?” He cried. “Go back to Europe - this is no place for you.”

It was not very encouraging to hear that from so clever a man. There, too, I met Louis Lipsky, the leader of American Zionism, Maurice Samuel, and others, who took me to a Zionist meeting. Called upon, I spoke in German. The next morning I received a telegram from the Zionist Organization of America, offering me an engagement for a series of talks on Zionism throughout the country and I began to bring the message of Theodore Herzl to American Jewry.

One of the first communities I visited was Chicago. Everything was new to me, I was what was called a “greenhorn”. Reporters came. I had never met one before, and I took their question seriously. One of them asked me, “What do you think about American culture?” In all innocence I said, “America is a young country, and culture doesn’t travel by express.” The paper printed a story about it. So I became nervous. Two days later, five men came to see me.

“I don’t want to see reporters.” “We are not reporters,” they answered. “We are officers of a congregation, and listening to you last night, we decided that you have to become our Rabbi.” “But I can’t speak English!” “ You will learn.” “What kind of a congregation are you?” “We are Orthodox. “I’m not Orthodox.” “We are semi-Orthodox.”

I didn’t know what it meant. They did not argue - they just took out a contract and asked me to sign it. With the help of the dictionary, I found out they had offered me a decent salary and obligated themselves to bring my family over from Europe and to furnish me with an apartment. I signed. They left, and here I was sitting in my hotel room, believing that I had dreamed it. So four weeks after my arrival on the new continent, I had a congregation. Another four weeks passed by and they asked me whether I would agree that they amalgamate with another congregation. That was new to me.

“How do you do that?” “We sell our synagogue.” [This was our Synagogue built on the corner of Marshfield and Polk in 1903.] “Whom do you sell it to?” “In our neighborhood there is a Negro congregation - they want to buy the building.”

I was bedeviled and bewildered. The next Saturday I went to my pulpit and said: “ I have found a new interpretation for a Bible text. First came the Irish, who build the church, they left and sell the sanctuary to the Italians, then came the Jews - and now the Jews have sold it to the Negroes- now I understand what the Bible says: “My house shall be a house of prayer for all peoples.” (Isaiah 56:7)

Rabbi Sonderling was mentioned in a commencement speech in 2004 by Alfred Gottschalk at HUC-JIR (the Reform Seminary) in Los Angeles:

Sondering had a small congregation of German refugees in the Fairfax district of Los Angeles... He died on Simchas Torah and was born on Simchas Torah some 93 years apart, hardly a coincidence... One day, towards the end of his career as Rabbi of Fairfax Temple, which eventually was sold with the proceeds coming to support the fledgling new campus of the Hebrew Union College going up at the University of Southern California, Sonderling arrived at the Appian way campus, huffing and puffing his way up our sole staircase. He had in his arms a thin tall scroll wrapped in an antique frayed Torah cover. I met him as he reached the top of the stairs and he said, “This scroll it was in my ark for over forty years. Take it! Now it is yours! I give it to the college to preserve.” It was a parchment scroll of the prophets. a rarity. In the first world wa Rabbi Sonderling served in Kaiser Wilhelm’s army on the eastern front. He was a Jewish Chaplain and moved with the troops. One night as the army was pushing eastward, Sonderling realized he was in a shtetl (a Jewish town). There was a light on in the small synagogue he was passing in his vehicle. He ordered his driver to stop. Sonderling entered the synagogue. In a corner in the dim light he saw a man cowering. Sonderling approached him and said, “Ich bin oychat a yid vas tust du hier is a sakanah nfashos?” (I am also a Jew, where you are is life threatening.) The man replied, “Ich bin der shames von der shiel und wir hoben a sefer in oren hakodsh.” (I am the Sexton of the Synagogue and we have a scroll in the Ark.)

Sonderling said, “Ich bin a rav und ich will zein shomer far sefer.” (I am a rabbi and will become guardian of the scroll in your stead.)
The Shames handed it to him carefully. Sonderling took the scroll and said to the shammes, “Yetzt loif.” (Run, it’s dangerous here.)

He once remarked, “The seminary made me a rabbi. The university made me a doctor. But my experience in Eastern Europe made me a Jew.”

1925-1931: Rabbi Morris N. Taxon

Rabbi Taxon received his ordination from Yeshiva Yitzchak Elchanan, New York in 1912.

He served Columbus, Ohio’s Agudas Achim congregation from 1913 to 1918, Congregation Shearith Israel, 1922-1927, leaving our synagogue in 1931 to serve as Rabbi of Baron Hirsch synagogue in Memphis, Tennessee at one time known as the largest Orthodox synagogue in the United States.

Rabbi Taxon officiated at the first High Holy Day services at our synagogue subsequent to its dedication in February, 1925.

Rabbi Taxon is mentioned in a letter of Rabbi Tobias Geffen famous for his certification of Coca-Cola’s secret recipe, as having been involved with Rabbi Shmuel Pardes, author of the rabbinic journal HaPardes, who served in Chicago, in the initial certifying of the kosher status of Coca-Cola when Rabbi Taxon served as Rabbi in Memphis.

1931-1938: Rabbi Dr. Israel Weisfeld (1906-1998)

Rabbi Weisfeld received his rabbinical degree from Yeshiva University in 1929. He received his BA from the University of Miami and his Doctor of Philosophy from the University of Chicago. He served on the faculty of the University of Miami.

Rabbi Weisfeld served congregation Beth David in Miami from 1928-1931, our synagogue from 1931-1938, West Suburban Jewish Center, Har Zion, Oak Park, Illinois, 1938-1944, Shearith Israel, Dallas, Texas, 1944-1954, Beth Israel, New Orleans, Louisiana, 1954-1965, where he was installed as Rabbi by Dr. Samuel Belkin, President of Yeshiva University. In 1965 he went to the West Coast to serve Temple Beth El in Burbank, California. In 1968, he became Director of the Board of Jewish education in San Diego.

In Dallas, Texas, he was president of the Kallah of Texas rabbis, President of the Zionist Organization, Hillel counselor at Southern Methodist University.

In Chicago he served as Secretary of the Chicago Rabbinical Association, later named the Chicago Board of Rabbis, the Vice President of Jewish National Fund of Chicago and chairman of Jewish National Fund. He was a Director of the Hebrew Theological College, a member of the Executive of the Chicago Zionist Organization, a committee member of Histadruth Ivrit, and the Chicago Committee for the Defense of Human Rights against Nazi-ism serving as chairman of its youth division. He was a member of the administrative committee of the American Jewish Congress.

Rabbi Weisfeld was a literary editor of the Chicago Express and contributed to the Encyclopedia of Jewish knowledge.

Rabbi Weisfeld authored many books, including David the King, The Ethics of Israel, Labor Legislation in the Bible and Talmud, The Message of Israel, The Pulpit Treasury of Wit and Humor, This Man Moses are but some of his literary efforts.

The Rabbi died in 1998 in San Diego, California.

1940-1942: Rabbi Jacob Bernard Agus (1911-1986)

Much of this material was taken from an article about Rabbi Agus posted on Wikipedia.

Jacob Agus was a leading thinker of the Conservative movement’s liberal wing, heading the Rabbinical Assembly committees on the sabbath, prayerbook, and ideology of the Conservative movement. He was also a rabbi of Beth El Congregation in Baltimore, Maryland, and a promoter of interfaith communication – which he referred to as “dialogue” or “dialogue.”

Agus (the family name was originally Agushewitz) was born in Poland in 1911 and his family emigrated to the United States in 1927. He attended the Talmudic Academy, New York, graduating in 1929, received his BA from Yeshivah College in 1933, and received ordination from Rabbi Moshe Soloveichik at the Rabbi Issac Elchanan Theological Seminary of Yeshiva University in 1935. In 1940 he received a PhD in Jewish Thought from Harvard University and married Miriam Shore the same year. His older brother was Irving A. Agus, who taught medieval Jewish History at Yeshiva University.

Agus’s rabbinic career included Congregation Beth Abraham, Norfolk Virginia, 1934-1936; Temple Ashkenaz, Cambridge Massachusetts, 1936-1940, our synagogue, 1940-1942 and Beth Abraham United Synagogue Center, Dayton, Ohio 1942-1950. Undergoing a religious epiphany in 1945, Agus left the Orthodoxy of his birth and formally affiliated with the Conservative movement by joining the Rabbinical Assembly. In 1950 he became the Rabbi of Beth El Congregation in Baltimore, where he remained for thirty years, retiring in 1980.

As an influential member of the Conservative movement’s Rabbinical Assembly, where he was active on the Committee on Jewish Law and Standards, he chaired the Prayer Book Committee (1952-1956) and worked to define Conservative Jewish ideology through a series of conferences, committees and other gatherings, including the Continuing Conference on Conservative Ideology (1956-1963). With Morris Adler and Theodore Friedman he co-authored the 1950 “Responsum on the Sabbath” that allowed Conservative Jews to use electricity and drive on the Sabbath.

He taught at the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College, St. Mary’s Seminary and Ecumenical Institute (where he was also a founder of the Interfaith Roundtable), and at both Temple University and Dropsie College in Philadelphia.

In 1965, Agus accepted an invitation to teach at the Seminario Rabinico Latinoamerico in Buenos Airea in Argentina for two months, then traveled to Brazil, where he spent two weeks lecturing under the auspices of the American Jewish Committee and the Brazilian Institute for Culture and Information. In Latin America, Agus developed continuing ties with students and colleagues – among them Marshall Mayer, then director of the Seminario.

In addition to his rabbinical and scholarly work, Agus adopted the cause of interfaith and interracial relations, dubbing his forays into Jewish/Christian and Jewish/Christian/Muslim relations “dialogue” and “trialogue.” He also served on the boards of the Baltimore National Council on Christians and Jews, and the predominantly African-American Morgan State University, also in Baltimore.

He authored many books, including, Guideposts in Modern Judaism, The Meaning of Jewish History, The Evolution of Jewish Thought, Modern Philosophies of Judaism, and Banner of Jerusalem; The Life, Times, and Thought of Abraham Isaac Kook, the late Chief Rabbi of Palestine.

1943-1951: Rabbi Shmaryahu T. Swirsky (1912-1992)

Rabbi Swirsky was the fourth in a family of rabbis from Lithuania. He was ordained at the age of 24 at the Hebrew Theological College of Chicago. In 1943, he became Rabbi of Agudath Achim. In 1951, Rabbi Swirsky moved to Miami, where he led Beth El Congregation and founded Brandeis Jewish Day School. In 1958, he became Rabbi of Tifereth Israel Congregation in Washington D.C. and then moved to lead Agudas Israel in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan Canada from 1960 to 1964. From 1964 to 1990, Rabbi Swirsky led Israelite Center of Coral Gables, Florida and Beth Jacob Congregation, the oldest synagogue in Miami Beach.

Rabbi Swirsky held master’s degrees from Hebrew University in Jerusalem and the University of Miami, and a doctoral degree from the Hebrew Theological College. He was a professor of history, Western civilization and social sciences at Miami-Dade Community College for more than 20 years. Before retiring in 1991, he established a scholarship fund for needy students. Rabbi Swirsky was known as a gifted orator and was a frequent guest speaker for organizations around the United States.

Rabbi Swirsky was a pioneer in teaching and a brilliant historian. He was well loved by his students. Married to Ida Sacks Swirsky, who was the daughter of Rabbi Menahem B. Sacks, founder of the Associated Talmud Torahs of Chicago, and the grand-daughter of Chief Rabbi Zvi Pesach Frank of Jerusalem, Rabbi Swirsky had two daughters, Raananah Katz of Hollywood, Florida, and Avivah Litan of Rockville, Maryland.

1952-1961: Rabbi Sidney B. Riback

Rabbi Riback was born into a Chasidic family in Zamosh, Poland. He came to the United States in his teens. He received his education at the City College of New York and the Jewish Theological Seminary, where he received ordination, a Masters degree, and an honorary degree of Doctor of Divinity.

He served as a chaplain in the United States Army during World War II. He was a founder of the Interfaith Clergy of the Greater Northeast of Philadelphia. The Rabbi was an award-winning artist. He studied at the National Academy of the Arts, New York City, was a member of the Jewish Artists Association of Chicago, and participated in several exhibitions. His paintings were acquired for permanent display by synagogues and private collections and his unique Ketubot (Jewish marriage contracts) adorn the walls of homes in many parts of the country.

Rabbi Riback served congregations in Buffalo, New York, and Philadelphia, Sharon, Pennsylvania, at Temple Beth Israel.

During the Rabbi’s tenure at Agudas Achim, family seating was instituted in our Sanctuary and the Synagogue became known as a Traditional Congregation.

1962-1964: Rabbi Naftali Landau (1925-)

Rabbi Landau was born in 1925. He was the son of a Hungarian rabbi and a graduate of Kehilath Jacob Seminary in Antwerp, Belgium. The Yeshiva was founded in October 1946 by the Chassidic Rabbi, Vayechi Yosef Gruenwald, the Pupa Rav, who came from Hunagary with four teachers and 86 students ranging in age from 14 to 18 years old all escapees of Concentration Camps. The students all intended to make their way to Palestine.

On Jan 8, 1951, Rabbi Landau married Minnie Finkelstein, 19, of 4608 Monticello Avenue, in the Albany Park neighborhood of Chicago.

Before joining Agudas Achim, Rabbi Landau was the rabbi at Shomre Hadas Congregation, 11445 S. Forest Ave. in the Roseland neighborhood of Chicago. He led High Holyday services at Agudas Achim in 1962 and 1963.

1965-1990: Rabbi Oscar M. Lifshutz (1916-1990)

Rabbi Lifshutz was born in Rock Island, Illinois. He graduated from Northwestern University in 1937 with a law degree, and attended Hebrew Theological College, Chicago, where he was ordained a Rabbi in 1945. The Rabbi served as a United States Army chaplain rising to the rank of Lieutenant Colonel. In 1949 he was involved in the removing of the remains of Theodore Herzl from Vienna, Austria to be re-interred in Israel, working with the first chief Rabbi of the Israel Defense forces and later Chief Rabbi of Israel, Rabbi Shlomo Goren.

The Man Who Brought Herzl Home
Courtesy of Miriam B. Lifshutz

“Dear Chaplain Lifshutz, I have always admired the courage and initiative you display when working out practical solutions to the problems encountered,” Maj.-Gen. Jesmond Balmer, the American deputy high commissioner for Austria, wrote in November 1949. “It has been most helpful to me to have had your expert knowledge and dependable advice in conducting refugee operations and formulating our policies in this field. The task of providing care and assistance to the 150,000 Jewish refugees who have passed through Vienna since 1946 has been tremendous. Without your generous and capable help, we could scarcely have met this responsibility.” The individual so highly praised by the general, Rabbi Oscar (Mike) Lifshutz, spent 20 years in the US Army - from 1945-1965 - eventually rising to the rank of lieutenant-colonel. In the early part of his career, he participated in both the birth of Israel in 1948 and the Zionist exercise of sending Theodore Herzl’s remains from Vienna to Israel in 1949. He was stationed for three and a half years in Austria. Growing up in Chicago, Lifshutz’s Zionist sympathies were awakened when he attended the pageant at Soldier Field in June 1933, marking the centennial of Jews of that city. To neutralize the rise of Hitler to power that very same year, Zionist leader Chaim Weizmann was brought from England to be the main speaker. In addition, a group of 3,000 Jewish young people had practiced diligently to form a resounding chorus whose singing inspired the 100,000 people who were present. A reporter from the Chicago Tribune, covering the event, wrote: “Members of Chicagoland’s Jewry unrolled on Soldier Field last night a gigantic scroll emblematic of the resounding Pentateuch and thereon, they read the story, now tragic, now triumphant, of the race’s march down 40 centuries to the New Palestine.” The performance that night touched Lifshutz and deepened his understanding of the need of a Jewish homeland. In the 1940s he studied at the Chicago yeshiva Beit Midrash Latorah and was active in various student groups which were trying to save the remnants of eastern European Jewry. Moreover, they hoped to create a structure to assist Jews to return to their own land after hostilities concluded. Lifshutz was a member of Hashomer Hadati at that time, and many of his colleagues in the group made aliya after Israel became a state.

Upon his ordination in the summer of 1945, he immediately entered the U.S. Army as a chaplain, and was given orders to serve in Europe. After brief tours of duty in Belgium and France, he arrived in Vienna in May 1946, remaining there until December 1949. In Austria, the U.S. Army had established a network of 19 DP camps to help provide survivors a “transition” to civilian life. Lifshutz worked closely with them, along with his regular military duties. He was also an active participant in the Bricha, the underground movement assisting survivors in Austria, Germany and other countries reach Eretz Yisrael. Lifshutz provided the required supplies for people in these camps to create educational programs in the general and Jewish fields. He also made it possible for religious services to be held on Shabbat and holidays. Lifshutz officiated at weddings, circumcisions and funerals. “When the United Nations passed the partition plan in 1947, truly affirming the state of Israel’s future existence,” he once told his wife, Miriam, “I knew that I must work both with the American military staff and the leaders of the camp to assure that sufficient legal transport would exist to bring our brothers and sisters to their ancestral home.” Lifshutz had played a role in seeing to it that 1,000 to 1,500 survivors were smuggled out of Austria and reached Palestine by boat as part of the ma’apilim, and by May 1948, he had been appointed as adviser for Jewish affairs by Gen. Geoffrey Keyes, the American high commissioner of the Austria area. Among his responsibilities was “formulating for the United States armed forces long range plans for displaced persons’ operations and military security.” That Pessach, Lifshutz organized a Seder in Vienna that brought together “American, French and British military personnel who sang their own anthems and then, together, ‘Hatikva’ to conclude the evening.” Only a few weeks later, the hope of the Jews would be realized. “By May 18, 1948,” Lifshutz recalled, “I knew something monumental had occurred, having heard a day or two earlier via army radio that the Jews now had their own state and had been attacked by several Arab countries. Up until then I had fostered the hope for freedom in the hearts of the survivors with whom I worked. In fact, little groups in clandestine rendezvous had achieved a trickle of movement by escaping and making their way to Eretz Yisrael. Every refugee had awaited his turn to run the gauntlet of border guards and police and go home. The previous situation changed in May 1948.” Lifshutz learned through his Bricha sources that “Jerusalem was both the focal point of fighting and the hope for Jews the world over.” “On May 18,” he stressed in a touching memoir, “as if handed down from Sinai, publicly throughout Vienna came the overwhelming news of the jubilant miracle - that Israel had been reborn!” On that day, Lifshutz went to visit with the leaders of Camp Riedenberg, a DP camp near Salzburg. “There was shouting and dancing in the parade area of these old and dilapidated ex-German barracks. The American military police, who formerly guarded the outside gates and policed the surrounding area, were now dancing the hora with the refugees.” Unexpectedly, a jeep filled with officers drove up. Led by a colonel, the others dismounted and headed toward the flagpole. After exchanging greetings, the colonel said to Lifshutz. “This is a great day for you, Rabbi, and I am here to see to it that we are going to do things in the right way.” Lifshutz remembered that morning vividly, recounting its details throughout his lifetime. “What do you have in mind, sir?” The colonel answered him without hesitation. “I am a Christian and I feel that I, too, have had a hand in helping to bring the Children of Israel to the Promised Land.” Then the colonel continued in a most moving way. “I want to tell my children that I helped a people find a homeland.” He went on to explain that he felt that his family should know why he had been away from home these past three years - “regaining freedom for all people.” As the colonel explained his intentions, he signaled to two of his MPs to approach the base of the flagpole. The American flag was lowered. The flag bearers folded the flag, presented it to the colonel. He then gave it to the DP camp leader with these touching words. “Remember, will you, that a lot of my men fought and died to achieve this day. Here is the flag of my country, the United States of America, a symbol of freedom.” Lifshutz watched as the camp leader signaled a refugee who carried a large package under his arm. He came forward, placed it in the hands of two DPs. When they opened the package, a large blue-and-white flag was revealed. They began to raise it. “As the wind got it,” Lifshutz noted, “it unfurled, and there majestically flying almost within the shadow of Hitler’s retreat area flew the flag of Israel in all its majestic glory. An American officer issued the command attention. Every DP in the camp grew a head taller as they sang ‘Hatikva.’ When the final notes of the anthem ended, I had the same feeling as if a sacred prayer had just been sung by a celestial choir.” The colonel bid Lifshutz good-bye, and his officers jumped into the jeep with him and quickly drove off. “All the DPs looked up at the miracle at the top of the flagpole,” Lifshutz recalled, “and every eye and cheek was wet with tears. Suddenly, I realized that I was crying myself. I was a witness to the rebirth of Israel.”

Over the next 15 months, Lifshutz was instrumental in assisting a number of DPs, families and individuals, leave the camps and immigrate to their permanent homes in Israel. However, he did not expect to be given the honor of overseeing the ceremony preceding the removal of the remains of Herzl from the Doebling cemetery in Vienna prior to their being flown to Israel for reburial. In his will, Herzl had asked that he be buried in a metal casket and that, when there was a Jewish state, he be interred there. In the late 1930s there had been a lengthy correspondence between European Zionist leaders and Zionist leaders in Palestine attempting to arrange the move. The initial site was to be Haifa, for various family reasons. In May 1946, the head of the Geneva Zionist organization wrote to the American authorities in Vienna, specifically requesting action on Herzl’s remains. The Americans wrote back indicating that there was no problem from their side, but the British would have to give permission for reburial, which was not forthcoming. When Israel did become a state in 1948, one item to be arranged was the reburial of Herzl and his family in the soil of the new nation. In December 1948, a special committee with membership from the State of Israel and the World Zionist Organization was created to make the decision about the timing of the reburial and in what city it would be. The members of the committee chose Jerusalem, not Haifa, as the site of Herzl’s eternal grave. As the deliberations concluded, the Jewish Agency announced, “It is clear that the resting place of the visionary of the state is in the capital of the state.” In Vienna, where the Herzl family tombs were located, Keyes asked Lifshutz to be on call for the actual ceremony. After several postponements, August 12, 1949, was designated as the date the grave would be opened. The coffins containing the remains of Herzl, his parents and his sister were carried to the entrance of Stadttempel synagogue, where several hundred local Jewish people, young and old, came and paid honor to this great leader. Lifshutz officiated at the cemetery and the next day at the synagogue. He was joined in Vienna on August 15 by the commander of the IDF Chaplaincy Corps, Rabbi Shlomo Goren. The two were at the head of an honor guard of IDF soldiers who had come to escort Herzl to the home of which he had passionately dreamed. The coffins were placed in an El Al plane at Tulen military base and flown to Israel. On August 17, amid great celebration, Herzl was interred on the Jerusalem hilltop that now bears his name.

1992-1997: Rabbi Michael Schorin

Rabbi Schorin received a B.A. from the University of Michigan, Rabbinic ordination from the Jewish Theological Seminary of America, a Doctor of Ministry from the Chicago Theological Seminary and an M.A. in Pastoral Counseling from Loyola University Chicago. Rabbi Schorin is a Board Certified Chaplain (BCC) and is a national board member of the National Association of Jewish Chaplains.

After leaving our congregation he served Bnai Shalom of Rogers Park in Chicago. The Rabbi serves as Chicago Jewish Elderly Senior Life’s Chaplain and Rabbi since 2007. He is responsible for attending to the spiritual and religious needs of CJE’s clients and residents, and their families. Prior to his work at CJE, he was a Staff Chaplain and Rabbi for Northwestern Memorial Hospital in Chicago for fifteen years.

During the Rabbi’s tenure at Agudas Achim, the provision of Aliyot to women was instituted and the congregation became known as a Conservative Synagogue.

1998-present: Rabbi Philip Lefkowitz (1944-)

Rabbi Lefkowitz was born in Brooklyn, New York. His family had a connection with the Conservative movement of Judaism going back to his maternal grandfather’s Uncle, Rabbi Dr. Israel Konovitz, who served as Rabbi of Congregation Shaarei Shamayim, the First Romanian Hebrew Congregation, dubbed the “Carnegie Hall” of Cantors on Rivington Street in Manhattan (the historic lower East Side of New York) in the early 1900s. He was Principal of the Downtown Torah of New York on Houston Street for almost 50 years; a younger colleague of Prof. Solomon Schechter, the “father” of American Conservative Judaism.

The Rabbi evidenced a sincere commitment to Judaism early on in life. By his middle teens he already was a fully observant Orthodox Jew.

The Rabbi received his formative education in the New York public school system and his religious education in the Talmud Torah of Temple Beth El in the Bensonhurst section of Brooklyn. Attending Stuyvesant & Lafayette High Schools, he continued his Jewish education at Marshallia Hebrew High School. This school’s program was Ivrit b’Ivrit, in Hebrew, with courses in Bible, Jewish history, Jewish religious observance, the Hebrew language, Jewish music and dance. He attended the City of New York’s college system, completing graduate studies at Villanova University, Philadelphia.

Studying at the Lubavitch headquarters in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, for several years, he received rabbinical ordination from Rabbi Israel Jacobson, the Mashpia (spiritual adviser) of the Lubavitch Chassidic movement and other internationally respected Orthodox rabbinical figures in the United States.

The Rabbi played an integral role in the development of the first Baal Teshuva (returnees to religious observance) Yeshiva, Hadar Hatorah, developed at the behest of the late Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, of whom Rabbi Lefkowitz is a devoted follower.

Prior to coming to our synagogue, Rabbi Lefkowitz served several congregations, including, the Beth Medrash Machzekei Rav, Coney Island, Brooklyn, Remsen Heights Jewish Center, Canarsie, Brooklyn, Congregation Tree of Life-Sfard, McKeesport, Pennsylvania, where he played a major role in the building of its synagogue in White Oak, United Orthodox Synagogue, Plainfield, New Jersey, Tiferes Israel, Moncton, New Brunswick, Canada, and Whitefield Hebrew Congregation, Manchester, U.K., one of the most significant congregations in the English provinces.

The Rabbi arrived at our synagogue to serve in a part-time capacity at a time when the synagogue had experienced years of decline and neglect and was literally gasping for its last breath. He stipulated as a prerequisite to his assuming the pulpit of Agudas Achim that the synagogue return to complete Orthodox observance. He immediately reinstalled the Mechitza, returning the synagogue to full Orthodoxy after nearly half a century. The Rabbi quickly took on the issues facing the congregation and, in but a few months, had developed a stable Sabbath service attended by nearly 75 individuals.

Reaching out to the then thousands of Jewish seniors from the former Soviet Union residing in the Uptown community, Rabbi Lefkowitz developed a full range of programs and activities to introduce them once again to our heritage and tradition. Oneg Shabbat dinners, Passover Seders, meals in the community Succah, Purim and Hanukkah parties, concerts and other cultural events were regular parts of the synagogue’s annual programing attended by hundreds. His second year at our synagogue High Holy Day services witnessed nearly 1,000 people in our Sanctuary.

Ably assisted by his sons, Moshe, Rabbi Yosef of blessed memory, and Levi, the Lefkowitz family took on the many problems the synagogue faced with gusto and sincere commitment. Tackling the major deterioration plaguing its physical structure, the Lefkowitz family, together with volunteers they recruited, plastered, painted, ran electrical wiring, plumbing, completing a great deal of rehabilitation work ultimately leading to the total renovation of the social hall, kitchen, bathrooms, library and offices on the lower floor. Under his supervision, the front stage of the sanctuary was rebuilt and a bima b’emtza, a separate stage for the Cantor and Torah reading, was installed.

In Chicago, Rabbi Lefkowitz served as the Executive Director of the Religious Zionists of Chicago, and as Assistant Executive Director of the Chicago Rabbinical Council. Serving as an officer of the Chicago Rabbinical Council for many years, the Rabbi was the founding chairman of its Legislative Commission leading a rabbinic delegation to Springfield as well as testifying before the State Legislature to advance the cause of Orthodox Jewish concerns. He served on its Conversion Commission and played a major role in the rehabilitation of the present headquarters of the Council on Howard Avenue.

In Manchester, the Rabbi wrote a weekly column in one of the Jewish newspapers. The Rabbi is a regular contributor to the Jewish press in Chicago, for many years writing a Torah column in the Chicago Jewish News and commentary on contemporary Jewish life in the Chicago Jewish Star. He served as the representative of the Chicago Rabbinical Council on the Jewish Community Relations Council of Chicago’s Jewish Federation, was a representative of Federation, a trustee in the development of a city-wide, grassroots organization concerned with the needs of the poor and disenfranchised, on the Clergy Committee for Public Housing, an adviser to the Field Museum, and a member of the Board of Directors of the Jewish Council on Urban Affairs. His work as a volunteer for the Commission on Human Relations of the City of Chicago earned him the prestigious Human Relations Award of the city of Chicago in 1993 presented to him by Mayor Richard M. Daley, for his development of the School To School program of the Commission.