Congregation B’nai Jeshurun: The South Street Temple of Lincoln, Nebraska – Its Early Years

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Congregation B’nai Jeshurun: The South Street Temple

 

In 1884, Isaac Friend came to Lincoln, Nebraska to make his home and engage in business.

He found no organization of any kind to represent its few Jewish residents.

Isaac Friend gathered together a few of the town Jewish residents and Congregation B’nai Jeshurun was formed in the Fall of that same year, 1884.

 

Its founders were: Isaac Friend, Aaron Katzenstein, Isaac Oppenheimer, Moses Oppenheimer, and Leopold Barr.

 

Lincoln was selected as Nebraska’s State Capital and the legislature first met in the beginning of 1885.

One of it first moves was to set aside city lots for the purpose of having religions of all denominations represented.

For $50, Congregation B’nai Jeshurun obtained a provisional deed for two lots on the northwest corner of 12th and D Streets.

 

However, lack of finances held back construction, until 1893, when the membership of 28 determined that a formal synagogue would give them both a place to worship as well as a building to attact other Jewish members of the surrounding area.

A meeting was called, $2,200 was subscribed to by the members, and each was charged with securing donations from others.

An additional $4,500 was collected from citizens and businesses.

 

The Building Committee consisted of M. Weil, President; M. A. Newmark, Vice President, Somon D. Mayer, Henry Schlesinger, Isaac Friend, and Morris Friend, Trustees.

 

Congregation B’nai Jeshuran was built and dedicated on Rosh Hashanah Eve that same year.

 

Rabbi David Marx, a senior at Hebrew Union College was engaged to conduct the High Holy Day services.

Rabbi Leo M. Franklin of Omaha helped conduct the dedicatory services.

Shortly after the dedication of B’nai Jeshurun came the financial panic of 1893.

Instead of increasing, membership fell.

 

Rabbi Leo M. Franklin of Omaha agreed  to serve part-time as acting Rabbi until the congregations finances were able to hire their own religious leader.

For the next 11 years, various student Rabbis from HUC served B’nai Jeshurun.

 

In 1912, Rabbi Jacob Singer was hired as the congregation’s first full-time leader.

Rabbi Singer formed a Junior Congregation, and a pipe organ was  installed, a gift of the Jewish Ladies’ Aid Society.

Beth Jeshurun, The South Street Temple, Lincoln, Nebraska

Beth Jeshurun, The South Street Temple, Lincoln, Nebraska

The Second Site

In 1922, fire destroyed most of the synagogue.

The Congregation purchased a new location and a new synagogue building was dedicated in 1926, on the corner of 20th and South Streets and is still in active service.

Of special note is the dome of the new synagogue, designed by Professor Meyer Gaba, a member of the congregation.

Its unique design allow the speaker from the pulpit to talk in a normal voice, without amplification.

 

Today, Congregation B’nai Jeshurun is known affectionately by Lincoln citizens as the State Street Synagogue.

 

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

  • Beginnings of the Pioneer Congregation of Lincoln, Nebraska, by Maurice A. Newmark, Vol. 14, #1.

Also Congregation B’nai Jeshurun’s web-site at: http://southstreettemple.org/

Most of this material was gathered in 1918 and 1923. Much more information has probably been found since then. Any more information will be appreciated, added, or corrected. We would also like a photo of the original Temple. Just click on “Contact” on the top bar.

 

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