A History Continued

As Shearith Israel moved into their new building, they also moved away from Orthodox Judaism. Through the 1940s, Shearith Israel was still Orthodox, with separate seating for men and women in the sanctuary and a mikvah (Jewish ritual bath). Many members still walked to shul. In 1949, the congregation celebrated its first bat mitzvah ceremony, in which a 13-year-old girl celebrated the coming of age ritual traditionally performed by boys. In 1950, their new rabbi, Emanuel Bennet, instituted mixed-gender seating and introduced some English into the Shabbat service. In 1952, under the leadership of newly hired Rabbi Kassel Abelson, Shearith Israel officially joined the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism.  That same year, the congregation celebrated its first confirmation ceremony. Although Shearith Israel had officially become Conservative, the congregation still maintained some traditional practices, including daily minyans and a strictly kosher kitchen. Each male member was assigned monthly minyan duty, in which he would be responsible for getting ten men to attend that day’s prayer meeting. In 1974, under the leadership of Rabbi Theodore Feldman, Shearith Israel granted full equality to female members, allowing them to receive Torah honors and count towards the minyan. In the 1980s, Shearith Israel reached a peak of 150 families and continued to hold daily minyans. The congregation also had a kosher meat co-op, in which 30 members banded together to order kosher meat from Chicago and Atlanta several times a year.

B’nai Israel, now known as Temple Israel, also thrived in the years after World War II. In 1940, 80 families belonged to the Reform congregation; this figure grew to 119 in 1962 and peaked at 182 in 1982. Like Shearith Israel, Temple Israel outgrew its building. Just as they had done in 1885, the women of the congregation led the way: in 1952, the Jewish Ladies Aid Society passed a resolution labeling their current temple inadequate and calling for the construction of a new synagogue. Finally, in 1957, Temple Israel broke ground on a new synagogue on Wildwood Avenue. When they dedicated the building the following year, they led a procession with the Torahs from the old temple to the new one. Rabbi William Silverman from Nashville’s Ohabai Sholom congregation was the keynote speaker during the dedication which drew 350 people. This move to their new home took place during the long tenure of Rabbi Alfred Goodman, who led Temple Israel from 1950 to 1983.