Wednesday, August 15, 2018

old templeOn Sunday evening, March 19, 1893, two young people, Rebecca Pines and Samuel Rosenblum, were married at Knights of Piths Hall on Hanover Street. The occasion, probably the first Jewish wedding to take place in Manchester, was marked by nearly half a column in The Manchester Union of the next day. The headlines read, "According to Mosaic Law," "Interesting Ceremony in the Local Jewish Colony," and "Wedding Feast and Merry-Making Follow the Nuptials."

Although there is no indication of the reporter who wrote about the occasion, there were details enough to suggest that the event had stirred more than passing interest. "The Jewish colony in the city was very well represented, and long before the hour set for the ceremony the friends of the happy pair began to arrive at the hall." The story went on, At 5:30 four of the gentlemen walked to the center of the room bearing a canopy which they there erected. Then Acting Rabbi Axel stepped in front of the canopy and commenced a chant."

The name of Peter Axel had appeared in the 1892 Manchester City Directory as Rabbi of the Jewish Synagogue at 895 Elm Street, and again the next year when the City Directory placed the Jewish Synagogue on "Central Avenue between Pine and Union." Rebecca and Samuel Rosenblum, both immigrants to America from eastern Europe, became the parents of four children and established a family that represents the paradigm of the American Jewish experience. Less than twenty years later, their eldest and only daughter; Lillian, entered Radcliffe College. She was not the first Manchester Jewish young woman to matriculate at Harvard's sister college. Two had preceded her, but she represented the pattern of educational achievement that marked the emerging Jewish community. Two brothers became dentists, one a physician.

When the Rosenblum parents celebrated their wedding day, the Jewish community of Manchester was a little more than a decade old. The first recorded Jewish resident may have been A. Wolf, who is reported to have arrived in Manchester on July 14, 1880. Perhaps there were others before him, but the permanent Jewish community started about 1880. Certainly the need for a place of worship was recognized early, and the first record of an established synagogue was in 1889 at 1058 Elm Street. Then known as "B'nai Jeshurun", it held services every Saturday from 8 to 10a.m. Officers included Solomon Sullivan, president, and Morris Cohen, vice president. B'naijeshurun was the direct ancestor of Congregation Adath Yeshurun, for the Sullivan and Cohen names appear repeatedly in the early records of the synagogue until well after Adath Yeshurun had been incorporated. "Sullivan" may seem a strange name for a practicing Jew, but the name was one of many similar adaptations to a new country. Solomon Sullivan had been born "Soloveitchik" and had acquired his new name about the time he came to America. Other members of the family changed the name to "Nightingale," a literal translation from the Russian meaning.

By 1891, Manchester community records listed 21 adult working Jewish men, nine of them heads of families. The synagogue membership was made up of immigrants primarily from Lithuania, known as "Litvacks" with a few from the Ukraine, generally known as the "Russische." As the congregation grew, so did the differences among its members. While common needs for social relationships drew them together, liturgical differences became dividers. In 1897, the dissenters, the Russische, decided to form their own synagogue and Congregation Anshe Sephard came into being. The firm dating of the second Manchester congregation helps to establish the lineage of Congregation Adath Yeshurun. It is unquestioned that Anshe Sephard represented a dissenting congregation. Long into the first years of the twentieth century the slate of officers of Adath Yeshurun continued to list many of the same names from the earlier; pre-separation period.

This history of the 1890's, particularly the schism in the congregation, establishes the one hundred years of Adath Yeshurun. Even though the first official mention of the congregation in the Manchester City records is the incorporation of Adath Yeshurun at 197 Central Street on January 4, 1900, the day after its first recorded meeting was held, it is indisputable that the legislation calling for incorporation of religious organizations had only been passed in the I 899 session of the New Hampshire General Court. There was no pressing reason earlier for such formal registration. Land for a cemetery had been purchased on South Beech Street in 1896 and there is ample evidence of congregational activity through the 1890's. (There are even records of a cemetery site in Bedford before 1896, but that site was abandoned.)

The peripatetic wanderings of the early congregation centered in the same parts of the city of Manchester where most of the early Jewish arrivals lived. Central Street, Pine Street, various locations for the young shul were listed among Manchester records. A report, "Our Progress," in a celebratory synagogue program book of 1912 recounted the growth of the congregation from its incorporation by 17 members in 1900 when services were held in a single room. In 1902 a cottage was purchased at 94 Laurel Street and subsequently remodeled for the growing congregation, and in 1910, after years of having to obtain rented quarters for High Holy Day services, the small congregation embarked on a campaign for more suitable space. Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur services had been held at Knights of Pythias Hall or Odd Fellows Hall, with the lodge decorations removed for the New Year and Atonement services. The arrangement was hardly adequate and on one occasion the congregation was forced to vacate the hall on Yom Kippur to make room for a previously scheduled lodge meeting. That event apparently galvanized the advocates of a new synagogue, and a fund-raising campaign began. Two members of the congregation (unnamed) each pledged one thousand dollars, a ball and bazaar in October 1910 raised another fifteen hundred dollars, and other pledges were collected. Construction started with the laying of the foundation in April 1911.

The building on Central Street housed religious services, a one- or two-room cheder (religious school), a kitchen, and a vestry or social hall downstairs. The vestry doubled for services on those many occasions when the congregation was small and money for heating the big upstairs was scarce. A shed-like extension faced the alley behind the building and in time there was even a permanent sukkah alongside the building for the autumn Sukkot festival. That small addition had a hinged roof, which was removed for the harvest festival allowing the rafters to be filled in with evergreen boughs. (The back shed provided a space where the rabbi, who also served as schochet or ritual slaughterer occasionally performed kosher slaughtering of poultry for members of the community who brought their live birds to him for the proper rituals). Upstairs, in the large sanctuary, there was room for perhaps 600 people, and the space was crowded for the high holidays in the fall and occasionally for Shabbat morning bar mitzvahs. In the male preserve on the main floor, pews in a central section and two side sections under the balcony all faced south toward the bi'nah, the raised platform for the reading desk and the ark holding the Torah scrolls. Immediately adjacent to the bimah on either side the pews were faced toward it. The women and young girls sat upstairs in the balcony which surrounded the hall on three sides. The balcony had three rows of seats along the sides facing into the sanctuary and eight or nine rows in the rear.

The first services in the new building, the first specifically built as a synagogue for a Manchester congregation, took place September23, 1911. In March 1912, four days of open house festivities provided for a celebration. A festive program book filled with advertising from members of the community and other well wishers marked the occasion. The Manchester National Bank advertised safe deposit boxes, priced at $1.00 per year and up, and the New Hampshire Fire Insurance Company proclaimed assets of over $5,500,000. A long program on one evening included greetings from dignitaries, both religious and civil, and a list of musical and dramatic performances by members of the community. Several members of the Lowenstam family performed on the piano and violin and Samuel Rosenblum's nieces, Miss Esther Rosenblum and "Little Miss Flora" Rosenblum each played a piano solo. (Morris Rosenblum, father of the two young piano players, served as president of the congregation in 1916-17, and was recalled years later as a devoted and hard-working synagogue supporter. He had also been instrumental in obtaining the original cemetery site in 1896, when $1,000 was raised to purchase the South Beech Street land. His two daughters became the first Manchester Jewish young women to attend Radcliffe College, slightly before their cousin, Lillian).

The new synagogue, a frame building painted light brown and trimmed in a darker shade, served the congregation for nearly half a century. In the 1930's there was a major renovation, highlighted by the painting of clouds in a blue sky in the arch above the semi-circular bimah. The bimah had stairs on either side leading up from the men's pews in front of it and a curved stained wood railing and balustrade. Amber stained-glass windows provided a sense of seclusion in the sanctuary, for the neighboring buildings, especially on the west side of the synagogue, stood close by.

For years it was usual for a boy's bar mitzvah celebration to take place at Saturday morning Shabbat services. There was a sense of community in the festivities, as the thirteen-year~old participated in the services, read the Torah blessings, and chanted his Haftorah. After the service, family and friends gathered in the vestry below the sanctuary for lunch, usually prepared by the women of the family with help from other members of the congregation. The kosher kitchen adjacent to the vestry was a cheerful place, where many hands made light work and where eagle eyes made sure that no one violated the rules of kashruth. Undoubtedly hired accommodators were used on occasion, but the celebrations had about them a homemade, family feeling.

An awareness of the needs of the less fortunate members of the congregation had early created a special role for the women. The Ladies' Aid and Benevolent Association of Adath Yeshurun came into being in 1910, eventually becoming the Temple Sisterhood. Women brought their homemak-ing and business skills together into the synagogue structure, organizing fund-raising activities, rummage sales, bazaars and social and cultural affairs. Dozens of women served as leaders over the years. Among them was Sadie Flaxman, daughter of immigrants from eastern Europe, who was born in New York and finished her schooling in Hartford, Connecticut.

Subsequently she became a social worker for the Connecticut Children's Bureau and, in 1925 came to Manchester as the wife of Samuel Stahl, a local dentist whom she had met at a YM/YWHA con-vention. She embarked on a career of community work. Sisterhood, Hadassah, the Community Center and a variety of non-Jewish organi-zations all benefited from her as-tute grasp of institutions and their community functions. Years later, Jewish women like Ethel Greenspan recalled how Sadie Stahl had introduced them to community responsibilities. Mrs. Greenspan, in turn, filled the leadership role in the synagogue and other community activities. The congregation usually struggled financially, and carrying the mortgage which had been nec-essary to complete the building was a heavy burden. During the twenties and thirties, the congregation was barely able to meet its financial needs. Almost no one in the Jewish community had much money, and the affairs of the congregation reflected its members' problems. When the first mortgage was finally burned in 1937, the congregation voted never to borrow money for a synagogue building again.

The Jewish community was not different from the general population of Manchester The city suffered from the decline of the Amoskeag Manufacturing Company, and money for any purpose was hard to come by. During those days, two mainstays of Congregation Adath Yeshurun had been Edward M. Chase and Abraham Machinist. Both downtown merchants, they had begun their careers late in the late 19th century and by the time of World War I had become financially successful. The two were undoubtedly the strong-est support of the congregation, and some of their debates became legendary as each strove to pressure the other to increase his donations. On Kol Nidrei night, when the entire congregation gathered at dusk in the Central Street shul, fund-raising was carried on. A non-Jew, Arthur Davis, resident caretaker of the YM/YWHA building on Hanover Street, sat with pencil and pad of paper in the back of the sanctuary and recorded the pledges. As he listened and wrote down the congregation's promised contributions, Chase and Machinist often challenged each other at those fund-raising sessions.

Chase had come to Manchester in the 1880's, begun a business, which eventually became a furniture store, and started the real estate holdings that made him a power in the community. He was gifted with imagination and a keen sense of social responsi-bility. Just after the First World War he bought a tract of land on south Maple Street and built a group of small frame bungalows. The houses were sold to working people for minimal down payments and favorable mortgage terms, and by the mid-thirties the experiment had been so successful and so much of the original cost repaid that Chase bought a farm on Mammoth Road in East Manchester and redid the experiment, building a group of brick houses and selling them on similar terms. Both groups of houses still stand today in 1991, testimony to the far-sighted social vision of E.M. Chase.

Machinist, too, had a keen sense of community. From his dry goods store on Hanover Street he reached out to the Jewish and non-Jewish community. In the 1930's he took on as a special project the unifica-tion of the divided Jewish cemetery for he strenuously objected to the perennial cemetery arguments that had festered between the two congregations since 1918 when Anshe Sephard had bought land adjoining the Adath Yeshurun cemetery for its own use. For years a fence down the middle of the cemetery had separated the land on which the two congregations buried their dead and Abe Machinist worked hard and long to remove that visible sign of dissension. Finally, in the late 1930's, Machinist negotiated an agreement with

Congregation Anshe Sephard to establish a single cemetery. Abe Machinist donated the gates (he would later finance their restoration in the late 1960's as well) and he and Nathan Eckman signed an agreement for their respective congregations. Milton Machinist recalls that his father and Eckman marked the occasion by exchanging the fountain pens with which they had signed the document. Abe Machinist emphasized the permanence of the cemetery merger by purchasing burial plots on both sides of the erstwhile dividing line. His action is now memorialized in the broad family...

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