Our Rich History in Akron, Ohio
The Beginnings of a Congregation
Around 1854, Jewish families began arriving in Akron, and by 1865 the need to join together to worship, educate children in their faith, and socialize became the common bond that led a small group of 20 men to organize the Akron Hebrew Association. Thus, on April 2, 1865, a constitution, signed by these 20 men, became the framework that would guide the Reform Jews of Akron through the next 150+ years. Isaac Levi was the first president of the Association, and services and meetings were held in one room on Howard Street in downtown Akron. A school was established during that first year, and five years later the first confirmation of four Daughters of lsrael took place. By 1871, the congregation felt able to support a rabbi, and Rabbi Aaron Suhler became the first permanent rabbi.
Even in those days, changes in worship rituals were debated. In 1871, after many weeks of discussion, it was decided that “any Gentleman shall be privileged to remain covered or uncovered.” Also, during that year, the time of services was set on Friday at 8:00 p.m.
A Place of Our Own
By 1885, the congregation had celebrated its first Bar Mitzvah, joined the Union of American Hebrew Congregations and had purchased its first synagogue, the former St. Paul’s Episcopal Church on High Street, where they remained until 1911 when the synagogue on Merriman Road was built. Although still known as the Akron Hebrew Association, the name of the synagogue was changed to Temple Israel, a name submitted by Sylvia Whitelaw, who won $10 for the suggestion.
The early rabbis were instrumental in securing a comfortable environment for the Jews of Akron. Rabbi Isidore Philo encouraged secular activities and community service and was commended by the Akron Beacon Journal for his interest in public affairs. Under the leadership of Rabbi David Alexander, the Sabbath School expanded and Boy Scout Troop No. 2 was formed. Also, under his guidance in 1920, a new constitution was adopted, giving women membership in their own right, an equal voice, voting privileges and the right to serve on the Temple Board.
Growth in Temple membership resulted in two major renovation projects. The first culminated with the laying of the cornerstone of the new additions on May 10, 1952. In 1987, a major renovation project qas undertaken to add new administrative offices, additional classroom space, and a large kitchen and social hall. Other areas were refurbished resulting in an even more beautiful and welcoming place of worship.
However, the ravages of time began to take its toll on our beautiful Temple on Merriman Road, and in 2014 we moved to our location in Bath Township.
Rabbi Morton Applebaum began the Institute for Christian Clergy, which is still an important link with the Christian community. Rabbi David Horowitz, who came to Temple in 1983, continued in the tradition of the early rabbis and expanded the scope of social action and outreach. Under his leadership, numerous outreach and educational programs were initiated, which enable more members of the congregation an opportunity to participate.
In 2001, Rabbi David Lipper was engaged as spiritual leader of Temple. He expanded Adult Education and instituted many family-centered activities. As a representative of Reform Judaism, he worked to expand the presence of the congregation in the larger Jewish and interfaith communities.
Rabbi Robert Feinberg, after 20 years as a Navy chaplain and five years as a congregational rabbi, joined Temple Israel in 2009. His goal was not only to teach Torah but also to be available as a pastoral rabbi, available at all times to meet the personal needs of our members.
Rabbi Joshua Brown joined our congregation in July of 2016. He has a passion for social justice, parenting education, interfaith and interracial dialogue.
Cantor Gedaliah Gertz had a strong baritone voice especially for the Shalom Rav hymn. He engaged the entire congregation in many programs and started the first Temple Adult Choir. The Cantor Gedaliah Gertz Education Center is named after him.
Cantor Sam Berman continued with the programs that had been developed and the congregation enjoyed his musical interpretations of the services. Cantor Jason Rosenman’s music enhanced the services and the congregation particularly enjoyed having his mother sing with him for the Rosh Hashanah services.
Cantor Kathy Fromson has added spirit to our services with newer ritual music and congregational participation. Her “Wee Sing” programs have attracted many younger families to the Temple Israel congregation.
The auxiliary organizations of Temple have provided support since 1868 when the Schwesterbund was formed to provide help and financial aid to those who needed it. In 1911, Temple Israel Sisterhood was established with the stated purposes of supervising the kitchen, arranging congregational dinners, and providing treats for the Sunday school students. Temple Brotherhood started as a men’s club in 1937 with duties of fundraising, ushering, and providing lay leadership when needed.
The education and involvement of Temple youth have been priorities since the opening of religious school in the fall of 1865.
This beautiful tapestry,
which adorned the ark on Merriman Road,
is on display at our new home
on Springside Drive.
Today and Our Future in Akron, Ohio
The purposes and goals set forth by the founders of the Akron Hebrew Association provided a framework that has lasted for over 150 years with few modifications. Temple Israel is still a place to gather to worship, educate children and adults, and to socialize.
Please visit us for services and other offerings at 91 Springside Drive, Akron, Ohio (Bath Township).