The History of the Germans in Buffalo and Erie County, N.Y. - Part I, pages 197 - 201


the Jewish rites. The death of Mrs. Elias Bernheimer made the acquiring of a Jewish cemetery a necessity. This cemetery was on Batavia Street, but was used only until July 19th, 1861. To take care of the sick and and the dead was not the only object of this society. In their constitution there was a paragraph, which compelled them to bring all difficulties or misunderstandings between them before the board of trustees, in that way doing away with their appearance in court. All money matters in dispute were sent to a board of arbitration, the decision of which was final. This society existed five years. In 1847 the first Jewish congregation was started under the name of "Beth El". The first president of it was Mark Moritz and the first priest Isaac M. Slatky. The first service was held in the upper story of the Hoyt building, northwest corner of Main and Eagle Street. It was there a very funny incident happened, which deserves to be retold here. On one of the greatest holidays the rabbi, Mr. Slatky, remained all day in the synagogue, clad in a white dress, with cap and a white belt according to the rites. When toward dusk the service again commenced, the congregation could not read any more without a light, and as the orthodox Jews are forbidden to make a fire or light a candle on these high holidays, they had to send for a Gentile to light the candles in the hall. By chance it happened that a big negro was gotten for that purpose. When he came into the synagogue and saw Mr. Slatky without color in his face, from the exercises and work of the day, with his long white beard, clad in white from head to foot, he got so scared that he left the hall as fast as his feet could carry him, and not noticing the stairway in his flight, fell down and landed at the bottom in a heap, creating quite a little excitement among the brethren.

The congregation Beth El held their services in this hall for two years, when in 1850 they bought the old schoolhouse on Pearl Street, near Eagle. This new synagogue was opened on July 22nd, 1850. At that occasion Rabbi Isaaks from New York delivered an English sermon,

Caption under picture at center reads Temple Beth Zion


which was without a doubt the first one listened to by a Jewish congregation in Buffalo. As this synagogue stood in a business locality, so that the services suffered frequently through the noise created by passing wagons, etc. the building was sold in 1873 and a new synagogue built on Elm Street, between Eagle and North Division Streets. This was opened in August 1874, at which time Rabbi S. Falk gave the sermon.

As at all these services the Polish rites were used, the German Israelites decided to start a new congregation, where only the German rites should be used. They took the name of "Beth Zion", and the first officers elected by this congregation were: E.J. Bernheimer, president; Albert Strass, vice-president and treasurer; Moritz Weil, secretary; Israel Drinker, David Kurtz and Jacob Stauss, trustees. Mr. Slatky, who had been rabbi of the Beth El congregation, was now engaged by the German congregation at a salary of $5 per month, later on $100 per year. Of course he was not required to preach for that sum or to teach children, but had only to read the psalms and the thora. This new congregation first met in the parlor of Mr. Sinzenheimer, 55 Oak Street, who received for the use of the room 50 cents per month. The congregation Beth El met with many difficulties. It rented different rooms for the services, their last synagogue being at the corner of Elm and South Division Streets. It was dissolved in 1864, but great credit must be given it that Jewish parents were always admonished to have their children brought up in the belief of their forefathers. In the meantime the civil war had broken out and during the next two years everything changed with the Jewish colony of Buffalo, mainly through the coming of more Israelites.

Wealth and a longing for a better education were to be noticed more and more, and with that came the desire of the Jewish parents to give their children a more liberal and less orthodox education, and to do away with all usages, which did not fit to these modern times. The first of these noteworthy changes was to give the women a place during the services, where they could not be seen by men or boys. (Girls were not allowed to take part at the services in the temple until they were married). This change was followed by others when they saw how the liberal congregations of other cities prospered, how they built beautiful temples to their God and held reformed services in them. In September, 1863, a few influential Israelites came together, among them Jacob Altman, Henry Brock, Henry Cone, Henry Friend, Leopold Keiser, Siegmund Levyn, Leopold Marcus and Marcus Weil, and requested Rev. Dr. Wiser of Cincinnati to lead their New Year's and Atonement services. Kremlin Hall was rented and changed into a


temporary temple. For a good many Israelites of Buffalo this service with its choir-music and the religious sermon, given in a language which could be understood by all of them, was something new. All present were deeply impressed by this service, and the reform movement received more and more supporters. At last the time was ripe to start a reform congregation, and again we find the same men leading the movement. For October 9th, 1864, a meeting had been called for the purpose and was opened by Mr. Joseph E. Strass. Leopold Keiser was elected chairman and Louis M. Brock secretary pro tempore. A committee brought in a report in favor of the founding of a congregation and it received the name "the Congregation of Temple Beth Zion". Services were to be held after the reformed rites, but the main purpose of the congregation to be the starting of a school for the education in the Jewish religion. This report was adopted unanimously, and it was left to the committee to rent or buy a suitable place, in which to hold the meeting and to procure the services of a rabbi for a year. It was further resolved, that each member of the new congregation should pay $25 into its treasury. The following were charter members: Jacob Altman, Simon Bergmann, Solomon Biesenthal, Moritz Block, Louis M. Brock, Henry Cone, Samuel Desbecker, Abraham Falk, Siegmund Hofeller, Leopold Keiser, Emanuel Levi, Sigmund Levyn, Leopole Marcus, Louis Michaels, David Rosenau, Solomon Rosenau, Joseph E. Strass, Marcus Wall, Leopold Warner, Marcus Weiss. As the members were only a few, the attempt was made to combine with the members of the Beth Zion congregation, which was successful, as this congregation was also not very strong. This new reform congregation took the name of the older one "Temple Beth Zion".

By another arrangement the old Beth Zion congregation turned over its cemetery at Pine Hill to the new reform organization, enlarged through a donation of some property of Mr. Simon Weil, which was adjoining. The first officers of the Temple Beth Zion were: Sigmund Levyn, president; Sigmund Hofeller, vice-president; Jacob Altman, treasurer; David Rosenau, secretary; Solomon Biesenthal, Leopold Keiser, Joseph E. Strass and Leopold Marcus, trustees. The first rabbi of the new reform congregation was Mr. N. Cohen, the next Mr. S. Falk.

After the employment of Mr. Cohen, who had until that time conducted the services in the old Beth Zion congregation, the next important step was to look for a suitable place to build a temple. For that purpose the Methodist Episcopal Church on Niagara Street, below Eagle, belonging to Mr. Wm. E. Fargo, was bought for $13,000 and changed into a Jewish Temple.[1] More than $7,000 were at once subscribed. At the head of the list stood Mr. Abr. Altman with the

[1]The German text states that the episcopal church was purchased for $3000. Return to text


liberal donation of $1,000. On Friday, May 25th, 1865, the temple was opened with the usual ceremonies by Rev. Dr. Wise of Cincinnati. No sacrifice of time or money was to [sic] great for the members of this congregation to keep and sustain their enterprise, and we find here instead of the paid choirs, in use on this as well as the other side of the ocean, a choir which consisted of members and sang at all the services with great devotion to duty without any remuneration. The names of these who for 8 or 10 years were very useful members of the congregation in that way follow: Mesdames Biesenthal, Brock and Wiener, and Messrs. L.M. Brock, Henry Cone, Daniel Shire, Sigmund Levyn and Leopold Marcus. Peace, harmony and unity were the factors which caused the congregation to grow from year to year.

In Elm Street, between Batavia and Clinton Streets, the congregation "Berith Shalow", consisting mostly of Prussian Israelites, held their services every morning and evening. As early as 1864 the members of it had formed a beneficial society, among themselves, taking especial care of their sick and dead, but by and by this society had become a congregation of the most orthodox type. They had built a frame house, which was dedicated as a temple on August 24th, 1873. In regard to the social position enjoyed by the Buffalo Israelites in former years, we can best inform ourselves through a lecture given by Rabbi S. Falk thought to characterize the social position best through the following about the Jewish societies existing at that time:[1]

The Hebrew Union Benevolent Association had its origin at a meeting held on July 15th, 1853 in the house of Mr. Samuel Kohn. The main purpose was to get enough funds to get a substitute for every Jew drafted into the army, but the waves of patriotism at that time were so high that, instead of getting the money for the purpose mentioned, a Jewish community of volunteers was formed, consisting of 32 men. Of these nine enlisted in different regiments. In place of getting substitutes and paying for them they collected funds to assist poor Jews of Buffalo and poor travelers. This society during the many years of its existence did a vast amount of good. The first president of it was Leon Meyer. The ladies also formed a society of the same kind for the same purpose.

In the summer of 1871 the ladies of Temple Beth Zion combined themselves with the Protestant Ladies' Hospital Association, and ever since then they have collected yearly a large sum of money for the philanthropic purposes of the association. The first two female officers of this Jewish society were Mrs. Abraham Altman and Mrs. Henry Cone. In the fall of 1873 the congregation Temple Beth Zion joined the Union of American Hebrew Congregations, the executive board of

[1]The German text states that Rabbi Falk's lecture was presented to the Buffalo Historical Society on March 20, 1876. Return to text


which is in Cincinnati, and whose main object is to educate Jewish priests and teachers, theoretical as well as practical, for the Jewish congregations of this country. In July, 1875, the delegates of these Jewish congregations held their second yearly conference in McArthur's Hall in this city. A great many rabbis, lawyers and prominent Jewish business men attended. In 1879 there were four Jewish lodges in Buffalo. The oldest one is Montefiore Lodge No. 70, I.O.B.B. (Independent Order Benai Berith.) To these are to be added two lodges Kesher Shel Barzel (the iron ribbon) and one lodge of the Independent Order of the Free Sons of Israel.

As to their nationality the Israelites of Buffalo are mostly from England, France, Germany, Holland, Austria, Hungary, Poland, and Russia.

According to statistics of 1876 the professions of the Israelites were at that time:
Bankers - 1
Barbers - 1
Butchers (wholesale) - 3
Carpenters - 1
Cattle Dealers - 12
Cigarmakers (at least) - 30
Cigar Manufacturers - 1
Clothing Dealers (retail) - 24
Dry Goods Business - 2
Editors - 1
Cigar Dealers - 1
Fancy Goods - 2
Farmers (near Buffalo) - 2
Gent's Furnishings (wholesale) - 1
Hardware - 1
Insurance Agents - 1
Jewelers (wholesale) - 5
Butchers, dealers, (wholesale) - 5
Millinery - 3
Priests - 3
Musicians - 1
Retired from business - 5
Shoemakers - 1
Tailors - dozens
Embroidery (wholesale) - 2
Teachers - 4
Notions (wholesale) - 1

Caption under picture at center reads South Bay - Delaware Park Lake

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Revised April 24, 2005
Susan Kriegbaum-Hanks