Our History

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.


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