Congregation B’nai Israel, the Oldest Synagogue in Sacramento

 

Congregation B’nai Israel of Sacramento

Curator’s Note: Synagogues in smaller Western towns and cities were often career “starting points” for Rabbis. After a few year’s experience they would often move on to a larger, and better paying, congregation.

In 1849, the first Orthodox services were held at the home of Moses Hyman on Front Street in Sacramento, California.

In 1850, Hyman helped found the Hebrew Benevolent Society.  He was joined by Albert Priest, the first Jewish settler in Sacramento.

In 1850, after a major flood devastated Sacramento, Albert Priest bought land to create the Home of Peace Cemetery.  This Jewish cemetery is located south of J Street between 32nd and 33rd.

 

The First Building — 1852

In 1852, a small frame house located on the East side of Seventh Street between L and M Streets was purchased for $2,000 from the Methodist Episcopal Church.

Later that year, Congregation B’nai Israel’s first building was consecrated.  Alexander Myers was the Temple’s President.

Two months later, a fire destroyed much of the synagogue building.

The first building of B'nai Israel, Sacramento

The first building of B’nai Israel, Sacramento

 

The Second Building(s) – 1853-1858

In 1853, the members of Congregation B’nai Israel moved to a building on Fifth between J and K Streets.  Services were held under the spiritual leadership of Rabbi Abraham Galland.

In 1855, Congregation B’nai Israel moved to Fifth between L and M Streets.

In 1857, Congregation B’nai Israel moved to Fifth between N and O Streets.  This building was home to a congregation of about 50 families – 250-300 people.  The Temple’s school had 34 students who met twice weekly for religious and Hebrew lessons.

 

Back to the First Building – 1859

In 1858, Congregation B’nai Israel purchased their first building (on Seventh between L and M Streets) from the Methodist Episcopal Church for $1,800, then spent additional funds to fix it up.

In 1859, some members decided to form a new synagogue – Congregation B’nai Ha Shalom.

Later in 1859, the building was consecrated in a joyful ceremony.

In 1861, another fire devastated the synagogue building.  B’nai Israel and B’nai Ha Shalom became one congregation again.

Interim Building – 1861-1863

After this fire, Congregation B’nai Israel moved to Graham’s Hall on Sixth Street between J and K Streets.

 

The Third Building – 1864-1904

In 1864, Congregation B’nai Israel purchased a building from the First Presbyterian Church.  It was located on the East side of Sixth between J and K Streets.

The congregation bought the building and remodeled it for $5,500.

The Rabbi at this time was Rabbi M. Silberstein.  He served the temple from 1862-1865.

The consecration ceremony in 1864 was filled with music.  English vocalist, N. M. Jacobs, arranged music for the eight voice choir led by Hugo Mansfield.

From 1865-1868, Rabbi M. Stamper became the congregation’s rabbi.

From 1868-1879, Rabbi H.P. Loewenthal served Congregation B’nai Israel.

In 1879, Congregation B’nai Israel began to follow a more Reform style of Jewish practice under the direction of Rabbi Gerstman.  At this time, they installed an organ in the synagogue.

Synagogue members who preferred the Orthodox worship style formed a new congregation called Mosaic Law Synagogue.

Religious school instruction was held on Sixth and L Street at the Franklin School House.  There were 75 students in 1880.

In 1881, Rabbi Jacob Bloch served Congregation B’nai Israel.

In 1882, Rabbi Bloch moved the religious school to Seventh and G Street in order to accommodate the growing population of 99 children.

Most members of Congregation B’nai Israel were also members of the Eureka Social Club.

In 1885, Rabbi G. Taubenhaus joined the clergy.  He served the congregation until 1888.

Rabbi Joseph Leonard Levy served Congregation B’nai Israel from 1889-1892.

Rabbi Barnett Elzas was the Rabbi from 1893-1894.

Rabbi Abram Simon served until 1899.  Under his leadership, the Ladies’ Auxiliary thrived and the school had 65 students.  Rabbi Simon also reorganized the Hebrew Benevolent Society in 1894 and helped found the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children.

From 1900-1901, Rabbi William H. Greenburg served the community of Congregation B’nai Israel.

From 1902-1904, Rabbi Bernard M. Kaplan served the congregation.

From 1904-1907, Rabbi Montague N. A. Cohen served the members of Congregation B’nai Israel, just before the building was sold so that the congregants could build a new, larger synagogue.

 

The Fourth Building – 1892, 1904-1954

In 1892, the membership began talking about selling the current building and constructing a new, larger building to accommodate their growing population.

In 1904, they laid the cornerstone of the new synagogue at 1421 Fifteenth Street.  Everything at the new location – land, building, etc. – cost $16,000 and was paid for with funds raised by the congregants themselves.

In 1905, the new synagogue was consecrated.

From 1908- 1924, Rabbi Michael Fried served as the rabbi of Congregation B’nai Israel.

In 1912, the synagogue on Fifteenth Street suffered a devastating fire.

A year later, in 1913, they rebuilt the synagogue and installed a new organ.

From 1924-1930, Rabbi Harold F. Reinhart served the synagogue.

From 1930-1941, Rabbi Norman Goldberg led the congregation.  Rabbi Goldberg later became the first Jewish Chaplain of the California State Legislature.

Rabbi Alexander Feinsilver served the temple from 1941-1946.

Rabbi Irving Hausman served the temple from 1947-1964.

B'nai Israel at 15th St.

B’nai Israel at 15th St.

 

The Fifth Building – 1954 to the Present

In 1954, Congregation B’nai Israel moved to its current location is at 3600 Riverside Blvd., on the corner of 11th Avenue.

Rabbi Cyrus Afra served as the Rabbi from 1965-1967.

Rabbi Amiel Wohl was the congregation’s Rabbi from 1968-1973.

Senior Rabbi Lester Frazin was the Rabbi from 1974-1994.

In 1986, the Harry M. Tonkin Memorial Chapel and the Sosnick Library were built.

Rabbi Brad Bloom served the temple from 1995-2006.

In 1998, they built the Opper Courtyard with a splendid fountain.

In 1999, Congregation B’nai Israel – along with Congregation Beth Shalom and Knesset Israel Torah Center – were victims of a hate crime.  The synagogues were set on fire and sustained over $1 million in damages.

In 2006, Rabbi Mona Alfi became the Senior Rabbi.

 

 

For more information see the following issue of Western States Jewish History:

  • The Beginnings: The Diamond Jubilee Anniversary of the Consecration of the Firt Synagogue Building in the West, Temple B’nai Israel of Sacramento, by Rabbi Harold Reinhart, WSJH, Vol. 39, Issue #4.

Samantha Silver is Curator for this Congregation B’nai Israel Exhibit.

Also see the synagogue’s website at: www.bnais.com

Pictures and updates will be appreciated.

Sacramento Marker

B'nai Israel Plaque for first building site.

B’nai Israel Plaque for first building site.