Selected from From a Minyan to a Community: A History of the Jews of Syracuse, B.G. Rudolph
Temple Adath Yeshurun’s long history was sewn from those before us who gathered in prayer over a century ago. Our story is one of perseverance, commitment and faith … religious feeling passed down l’dor va’dor (from generation to generation). Faith has bound our community together through wars and economic depressions, and has resulted in the formulation of an extended family with which to celebrate life’s milestones.
There was a steady arrival of Jewish immigrants to Syracuse and the larger Upstate New York area in the early 19th century. The newcomers journeyed here from New York City either overland, or, more commonly, via the Erie Canal. Many Jews settled in the thriving village of Syracuse, where three Jewish congregations were founded between the years 1839 and 1864; The Temple Society of Concord in 1839, the Society of New Beth Israel (known as the Grape Street Shul) in 1854 and Adath Jeshurun (known as the Rosenbloom Shul) in 1864.
In 1870, forty young men left the Society of New Beth Israel and began holding meetings in Tabor’s Hall. Most of these men had immigrated from Neustadt, Poland, a town situated just across the border from Germany. Coming to America from the same town, these men felt a certain kinship which may have inspired them to want to worship together.
After their first few meetings, the “Neustadters” rented Kauffman’s Hall on Mulberry (now State) Street. Their Shul, whose formal name was the Congregation of Kadisha, was known in the community as the Neustadter Shul. Congregation of Kadisha literally means “brotherhood of holiness.” Their main function was to arrange proper Jewish burials. This was no easy task in those days. It was this purpose that originally brought this group together and was the foundation for the formulation of our congregation.
In 1872, the Trustees of the congregation obtained a state charter under the name “Congregation Adas Yeshurun.” The name means “congregation of the righteous.” The word Yeshurun was spelled with a “Y” to distinguish this new congregation from the older congregation, Adath Jeshurun, with a “J”, which was established in 1854.
One year after obtaining a state charter, the congregation purchased a house and lot at 75 Mulberry Street, just a few doors away from Kauffman’s Hall. This site was to be the address of our first synagogue. The Trustees of Adas Yeshurun held regular meetings and elected officers. The earliest minutes still in existence from those meetings are dated July 26, 1874. The first Temple president named in these minutes was Mr. I. L. Shevelson.
In those early years, the congregation had no permanent rabbi, but rather a hazzan (cantor), from among themselves or a hired one from outside to conduct services. This hazzan changed from month to month and holiday to holiday. Similarly, a shamas (sexton) was hired on a monthly basis. His duties included reading from the Torah at religious services and teaching.
Although Congregation Adas Yeshurun purchased the house and lot at 75 Mulberry Street in 1873, it was not until 1878 that they built their first synagogue. The intervening five years were filled with planning and fundraising for the new building. In 1874, a committee was formed to draw up the specifications for the new temple. Meanwhile, a fund drive was held to raise money for the new temple. Each member was assessed the amount of ten dollars, which was deposited in the building fund.
On July 1, 1878, at 2 pm, the cornerstone for the new synagogue was laid. The congregation thrived, and the last decade of the nineteenth century saw Adas Yeshurun change in many ways. The most significant change was in the name of the congregation. Some time during the early 1900’s, the Trustees and members began referring to the congregation as Adath Yeshurun, rather than Adas. One theory regarding this change was that it was an attempt to bring the word in closer harmony with the English phonetic pronunciation.
Another important change was the growing movement toward a religious service with more spoken English. In 1893, a call went out for a spiritual leader who could not only be a guardian and interpreter of the Jewish law, but would be a lecturer, and a preacher of sermons in English. The congregation contacted The Jewish Theological Seminary of America and subsequently elected the Seminary’s first graduate, Rabbi Joseph Herman Hertz, as their rabbi. The Hungarian born Dr. Hertz was only twenty-two years old when he became the spiritual leader of Temple Adath Yeshurun. He led the congregation with dignity and honor for four years. In 1898, Dr. Hertz went to South Africa and sixteen years later became the Chief Rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations of the British Empire, serving in this capacity for 32 years. During the 1930s, while he was Chief Rabbi of the British Empire, he edited the Pentateuch and Haftorahs, a text which was, until 2001, the standard synagogue Bible in English-speaking Conservative congregations. We remember Rabbi Hertz, our first ordained rabbi, who died January 14, 1946, with pride; we used the Pentateuch and Haftorahs that he edited in our synagogue until 2016.
In 1897, the Synagogue’s address changed from 75 Mulberry Street to 711 South State Street. The State Street address remained until 1922 when the congregation moved to a new location on South Crouse Avenue and Harrison Street, and the congregation was incorporated as Temple Adath Yeshurun. Almost 50 years later, on June 20, 1971, the present structure which sits on the hill on Kimber Road was dedicated. Our building was designed to serve not only the spiritual, educational and social needs of our members, but to also provide a gathering place for the people of Central New York.