Temple Israel: Nebraska’s First Synagogue – The Early Years

Temple Israel of Omaha – The Early Years


The first High Holy Day services in Omaha were held in 1867 with 20 attendees.

The following year, Khela B’ni Israel was formed (informally) and held High Holy Day services at the Masonic Hall.

Isaac Frank was President and Samuel M. Levy was Secretary.

The First Building of Temple Israel of Omaha, #WS5412

The First Building of Temple Israel of Omaha, #WS5412

In 1871, Congregation of Israel was created from the original group, with Meyer Hellman as its President.

It was agreed that the synagogue would follow “Reform Principles.”

Reverend Alexander Rosenspitz served the Congregation of Israel for 6 months in 1871.

The congregation’s original senior officers were: J.A. Hart, M. Goldsmith, J. C. Rosenfeld, and Emmanuel Simon.

Trustees were: N. Rosenthal, Bernard Gladstone, and Samuel Jacobs.

The B’nai Israel Burial Society was also founded in 1871.

The land for Pleasant Hill Cemetery was purchased in 1871 and deeded to Congregation of Israel after a short time.

Articles of Incorporation were finally filed in 1873 for Congregation of Israel.

In 1873-4, Reverend Hertzman of Council Bluffs led High Holy Day Services in Max Meyer’s Music Hall

2nd Location of Temple Israel of Omaha, Postcard

2nd Location of Temple Israel of Omaha, vintage postcard

Reverend David Stern was engaged by congregation in 1878, but left in 6 months due to higher salary needs.

Congregation of Israel purchased a lot for a synagogue building in 1879, but had to wait until 1884 to complete this project.

Reverend H. Shaft was engaged as spiritual leader in 1883, but left after a year.

The synagogue was dedicated in the fall of 1884, making it the first synagogue constructed in Nebraska. The seating capacity was 300.

Reverend George E. Hartfield was next engaged as rabbi for the new synagogue in 1884. With a monthly salary of $125, he had to supplement his income teaching French and German.

In 1885, Joseph Oberfelder, son of Isaac Oberfelder, the synagogue’s president, became the congregation’s first bar mitzvah.

Rabbi N. I. Benson was elected as spiritual leader in 1885 and remained for four years.

Rabbi Benson helped organize the Ladies Sewing Society, which created clothing for the needy. The club was presided over by Mrs. Meyer Hellman. It was the first organized Jewish woman’s charity in Omaha.

Congregation of Israel affiliated with the Union of American Hebrew Congregations in 1889. Rabbi Benson, being more observant, resigned in the spring of that year.

Rabbi William Rosenau, a graduate of Hebrew Union College, was the next spiritual leader of Congregation of Israel.

Rabbi Leo Franklin succeed Rabbi Rosenau in 1892.

He remained for 6 years.

Rabbi Abram Simon was installed in 1899. In this period the Sisterhood was organized.

Rabbi Frederick Cohn assumed his duties in 1904. Under his guidance, membership grew, and a new building, now known as Temple Israel, was dedicated in 1908. Rabbi Cohn remained with the congregation for 30 years.

Today, Temple Israel is thriving and in the midst of building its fourth synagogue.

Current Location of Temple Israel of Omaha awaiting completion of the 4th site.

Current Location of Temple Israel of Omaha awaiting completion of the 4th site.


  • Carol Gendler, “The Jews of Omaha: The First 60 Years,” Western States Jewish Historical Quarterly 5/3&4, 6/1-4.