A History Continued

The congregation was still orthodox in its worship practices and its members still observed Rosh Hashanah for the traditional two days in 1866. Soon, B’nai Israel embraced Reform Judaism, becoming a founding member of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations in 1875. The congregation cut back observance of Jewish holidays to one day, and incorporated more English into the service. By 1891, they had a co-ed choir and an organ.

In addition to B’nai Israel, Columbus Jews began to found other Jewish organizations in the years after the Civil War. In 1866, they established a local chapter of the Jewish fraternal society B’nai B’ith. In 1870, Columbus Jews founded a Jewish social organization called Columbus Concordia. Later known as the Harmony Club, the organization was created to alleviate the “monotonous evenings and Sundays in this city,” according to its minutes. The group soon rented a room and purchased twelve decks of playing cards, two sets of dominoes, one checker board, and five boxes of cigars. A purely social organization, the Harmony Club remained active for over a century. In 1874, Jewish women in Columbus founded the Daughters of Israel to provide charity and assistance to those in need. Rebecca Dessau led the organization for fifteen years. The group later changed its name to the Jewish Ladies Aid Society.

In 1885, the Daughters of Israel passed a resolution calling on B’nai Israel to build a proper synagogue for the congregation, which had outgrown the house they had been using as a meeting place. Finally, in November of 1886, they broke ground on a new synagogue after moving the house to the lot next door. When the Byzantine-style synagogue was dedicated in September of 1887, the local newspaper called it “one of the most beautiful buildings in the city. It would be an ornament to a city thrice the size of Columbus.” The dedication drew a large crowd, with many non-Jews and Christian ministers in the audience. Rabbi S. Hecht from Montgomery gave the keynote address during the three-hour dedication service. Later that night, the congregation held a banquet at which Columbus’  mayor C.B Grimes was an honored guest. B’nai Israel’s president, Leopold Lowenherz, thanked the non-Jews of Columbus for helping in the effort to build the synagogue, calling it “a monument” to their “liberal sentiment, culture, generosity, and good feeling.”  The editor of the Columbus Daily Enquirer had a great time at the banquet, commenting, “at a Jewish banquet they certainly know how to ’set up’ the wine. Did you ever attend a Jewish celebration that you did not have the best time you ever had?”