Martin Heller: Longest Running President of Congregation Emanu-El & Successful Dry Goods Wholesaler

Martin Heller

Martin Heller WS 16/2265

Martin Heller
WS 16/2265

Values Codes  I-H-E-L-P

Martin Heller was born in 1821 at Pretzfeld, Bavaria.

He came to this country in 1844.

He was the youngest of the four Heller brothers who came to America.

In Europe he had learned the dry goods trade and contin­ued in that business in a number of locations in the East and South with his brother Moses.


San Francisco

Martin Heller came to San Francisco in 1856 and established M. Heller & Brothers with Moses and Jonas.

This became one of the largest wholesale dry goods houses in the West.



The Hellers were related to Louis Sachs, who served as Presi­dent of  Congregation Emanu-El from 1862 to 1866.

Martin Heller followed him as President, serving for a year from 1866 to 1867, thirteen years before he began his major period as Parnass [President] of the Congregation in 1880.

The longest tenure as President of Con­gregation Emanu-El of San Francisco was enjoyed by Martin Heller

Martin Heller as President of Congregation Emanu-El, 1880s WS16/2266

Martin Heller as President of Congregation Emanu-El, 1880s


During his Presidency  the  membership of the Congregation Emanu-El doubled and the second generation, many of whom were children of the founders, became active in the leadership of the Synagogue.

It was in Heller’s administration that Congregation Emanu-El became entirely free of debt, purchased the site of Home of Peace Cemetery in Colma, abol­ished the wearing of headgear during services (1881), mourned the loss of Rabbi Elkan Cohn (1889), saw the investiture of Rabbi Jacob Voorsanger, and adopted the Union Prayer Book.


Martin Heller was active in the Eureka Benevolent Society and served as President of that organization.

He was also one of the founders, 1871, of the Pacific Hebrew Orphan Asylum, and was one of the major supporters of its activities.



In 1860, Martin Heller joined Modin B’nai B’rith Lodge No. 42, and was one of those active in forming the B’nai B’rith District Grand Lodge No. 4 in 1863.

He was elected the founding Vice President of the Grand Lodge. In 1866 he served as the Grand President of the Grand Lodge.


Heller was a very active member of the Independent Order of Odd Fellows, one of the great fraternal movements of the period and served as the Grand Treasurer. Needless to say, this implied the sterling reputa­tion which he bore in the gentile community.



Martin Heller married Babette Tupper in New York in 1852.

At the time of their father’s death his three sons were operating the family firm.

When Martin Heller died in 1894, the San Francisco Chronicle observed that, “He was a man of fine feeling, religious in tempera­ment and ardent in his convictions.”

Rabbi Voorsanger praised the fine quality of his leadership. He noted that, the prosperity of Congregation Emanu-El was his constant concern, and that Heller had set new high standards for synagogal leadership in the West.


More information can be found in the following issue of Western States Jewish History:

  • Heller, Martin, Pioneer Jews of San Francisco, Part One, A-L, Norton Stern, 41/1

Photo Gallery [New photos always welcome]


Moses Heller, 1861 WS 16/2366

Moses Heller, 1861
WS 16/2366