A History Continued

The Jews who celebrated the dedication of B’nai Israel’s new temple were quite different from the ones who had formed the congregation 33 years earlier. Of the twenty Jewish families who had organized B’nai Israel, virtually none remained in Columbus in the years after the Civil War.  These early Jewish settlers had been replaced by a new wave of German Jewish immigrants, such as Emmanuel Kern, who came to Columbus from Bavaria in 1867. Kern was soon followed by his brother-in-law Solomon Loeb as the two became partners in a dry goods store. Later, they opened a wholesale grocery business. After Kern died, it became known as the Sol Loeb Wholesale Grocery Company, which remains in business today, run by Sol’s descendants.  In the late 19th century, Columbus Jews continued to be concentrated in retail trade. According to the local newspaper, in 1891, more than fifty Jewish-owned stores closed on Yom Kippur. In 1907, the newspaper reported that it “looked odd to see so many stores closed on Monday” and that the number of closed businesses on the Jewish holiday reflected “how prominently the Jews are identified with the city’s business life.”

Despite this growth in Columbus’ Jewish population, B’nai Israel soon found itself in financial trouble along with much of the rest of the country in the 1890s.  They were having a hard time paying the mortgage on their new synagogue.  In response, the Jewish Ladies Aid Society wrote to the widow of the great French Jewish philanthropist Baron DeHirsch to ask for financial help. The Baroness DeHirsch responded to this plea, sending almost $2000 to the congregation, which was enough to pay off the remaining debt on the synagogue.

The congregation installed a memorial window in honor of the Baron and his wife and began to read the DeHirsch’s names during the Yizkor service on Yom Kippur, a practice they continue to this day.

The Ladies Aid Society of B’nai Israel had other creative methods of raising money for the congregation. In 1886, as B’nai Israel was working to raise the funds for a new synagogue, the Ladies Aid Society held a week-long Jewish Fair, at which they sold food and various merchandise. Held in an empty store the week before Christmas, the fair offered “a nice line of Christmas goods, quilts, curtains, lace goods and many other articles” including cigars and donated goods. Fair goers could also have a session with a fortune teller, played by a member of the Ladies Aid Society. The local newspaper covered the fair in detail and urged its readers to support it, writing that Columbus Jews are “ever ready to extend a helping hand to others. Now…once in a lifetime, they ask the public to help them build a new synagogue, and we hope the citizens will respond liberally.” The 1886 Jewish Fair was very successful and the Ladies Aid Society was able to make a substantial donation to B’nai Israel’s building fund.