of Congregation Children of Isreal in Athens, Georgia
serves as 'center of Jewish life in Northeast Georgia'
Tracy Coley Ingram
Correspondent for the Athens Banner-Herald
by Nelle Price Epps]
Congregation Children of Israel
Address: 115 Dudley Drive, Athens, GA
The history of the temple encompasses more than the events behind the
building, it is really a large part of the history of the Jewish presence
in Athens, and the history of the city itself. The original synagogue
was located where the Federal Building stands
was built in 1884,12 years after the organization of the first Jewish
congregation in Athens. Steve Bush, Athenian and former president of
the congregation, remembers the original temple, "It was a one-story
structure although inside it felt like much more because the ceilings
were so high. There were at least six large stained glass windows running
down each side that were so beautiful. We have two of them hanging by
the entrance to our new building today."
Siegel wrote a history of the congregation in 1973 as a part of their
centennial celebration. Siegel's book, "A View Of The Past,"
states, "Jewish history in Georgia begins with a group of 42 who
debarked at Savannah in July of 1733. Among these was Solomon Sheftall,
who's son, Mordecai, was to distinguish himself as a patriot that, following
the Revolutionary War, he would be made commissioner general of Georgia
and South Carolina. Although no direct links between the Athens and
the Savannah community have been found, it is of interest that a stone
bearing the inscription, 'Ann Sheftall David, 1877-1922,' appears in
the congregation cemetery. "
early Athens citizens who were also members of the Jewish community
include David Michael, Meyer Stem, Jacob Bush, E.B. and J Cohen, and
Samuel Loef. Bush said, "Originally when Jews immigrated here from
Europe they were by and large merchants. They started businesses here
and became leaders in the community."
Jacobs came from Filehne, Germany (later Poland) and manufactured caps
in Athens during the Civil War. According to Siegel, "He later
became the first reader (lay rabbi) of the congregation, and was its
first religious school teacher." Jacobs was not the only man to
immigrate from Filehne, in fact several families are listed as arriving
at different times from that town. Siegel wrote, "It seems more
than coincidental that these early Jewish inhabitants of Athens should
have come from the small town in Prussia."
of the Jewish community petitioned the Superior Court of Clarke County
and received a charter of incorporation in 1872 as "officials and
trustees of a Synagogue, or House of Worship for the Children of Israel
under the name and style of Kol Kadush Beni Yisroile and Congregation
of Children of Israel." In 1873, the members began purchasing land
at the comer of Hancock and Jackson streets, later adding another parcel
on Hancock and Dougherty streets. In 1873, the first of three parcels
of land was purchased by R.I. Bloomfield adjoining Oconee Hills Cemetery
for use as the congregational cemetery. The second parcel was purchased
in 1913 from R.E. Kilpatrick; the third was obtained from the Athens
Manufacturing Company in1947.
Athens, the Jewish community continued to grow. Siegel wrote, "Athens
celebrates the turn of the century with a week-long carnival which was
presided over by Col. Moses G. Michael. With his older brother, Simon,
he had built the Michael Brothers business into one of the most prominent
in Northeast Georgia, and had recently built the three-story structure
at the comer of Clayton and Jackson streets (later to become Davidson's)."
Vol. 10. No, 1
passes and Siegel said, "In 1939, with Hitler's successful blackmail
of the Western powers and the holocaust of the six million on the horizon,
a refugee of Nazi Germany, Sigmund Cohn, came to teach law at the University.
He would portend a new influence on the congregation, that of faculty
members of the University. For despite the fact that Athens was the
home of the University of Georgia, Dr. Cohn was its first Jewish faculty
Bush reported, "(In 1965), the Federal Government used its imminent
power of domain to take the land and building at a modest price."
Henry Rosenthal, then president of the congregation, led in the purchase
of 2.7 acres of land on Dudley Drive just beyond the current location
of Athens Regional Library. The new temple was dedicated on Oct. 13,
Here and Now: A new education center was added to the current temple
in 1996, dedicated as the "Carol Bush Education Center" in
memory of Bush's late wife. The religious school now has classes for
children as young as 3 and up to 16 years of age, increasing enrollment
from approximately 50 to 75 because of the new facility.
The Congregation Children of Israel is not only the first synagogue
in Athens, but has always been the only one. The current Rabbi for the
temple, Rabbi Ronald D. Gerson, said, "It's very important for
people to know we are the center of Jewish life in all of Northeast
Georgia. To find another temple you would have to go east all the way
to Augusta, west to Gwinnett County, south to Macon, or north to Tennessee
or North Carolina."
story byTracy Coley Ingram originally appeared in the Athens Banner-Herald
on Thursday, January 24, 2002.
It is reposted here with full permission. http://onlineathens.com/
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