Congregation Gemiluth Chassodim
|Congregation Gemiluth Chassodim|
Congregation Gemiluth Chassodim
|Location||2021 Turner Street
|Leadership||Rabbi: Harley Karz-Wagman
Cantorial Soloist: Judy Ginsburgh
President: Marilyn Wellan
Congregation Gemiluth Chassodim known locally as "The Jewish Temple" is an historic Jewish synagogue located in Alexandria, Louisiana. Founded in 1859 by Jews from the Alsace region of France, it is one of the oldest congregations in Louisiana and one of the original founding members of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations, now known as the Union for Reform Judaism.
Congregation Gemiluth Chassodim was originally established as the Hebrew Benevolent Society of Rapides Parish in 1852 in order to provide a Jewish Cemetery for burials. One belief for this is that certain families bought a burial ground when a small outbreak of yellow fever claimed six Jewish lives in the early 1850s. Eventually, the society evolved into a congregation in 1859. The first President of the Temple was Isaac Levy.
In 1860, the Jewish women of Alexandria assembled to found the Ladies' Hebrew Benevolent Society in order to raise money to buy real estate on which a temple could be built. The Ladies Hebrew Benevolent Society eventually changed its name to the Temple Sisterhood. In 1869, the Temple Sisterhood held a fundraising ball to raise money to build a synagogue at the corner of Third and Fiske Streets. Construction of the temple concluded in 1871. Two years later the congregation joined the Union of American Hebrew Congregations (now URJ) and hired Rabbi Marx Klein as its first rabbi.
Gemiluth Chassodim experienced great increase in its membership, from 123 families in 1925, to 154 families in 1930 and 203 families in 1945. The "Second Temple," which stood as an imposing Greek Revival structure (more than three stories tall) with a dome, unfortunately burned down in 1956. The congregation had already constructed its current Mid-Century modern structure on Turner Street in the early 1950s. Designed by Max Heinberg, it stands as a unique example of Mid-Century modern architecture even to this day. In the early 1960s, the current sanctuary, offices, and classrooms were added. The sanctuary is capable of holding some 350 people at maximum capacity.
Thirty-four presidents and 25 rabbis have served the temple. In 2011, Jonathan Cohen was appointed twenty-fourth rabbi of the congregation. In 2013, Rabbi Harley Karz-Wagman became the twenty-fifth rabbi of the Temple after leaving Mt. Sinai Synagogue in Cheyenne, Wyoming.
Congregation Gemiluth Chassodim remains an active part of the Greater Alexandria community. It serves as a regional synagogue drawing in members from such neighboring communities as: Natchitoches, Leesville, Natchez, Winnfield, and Fort Polk. Its current membership consists of approximately 100 member families with a religious school of 30 students. Its previous two rabbis, Martin Hinchin and Arnold Task served a combined 52 years in their service to the congregation.
Shabbat services are held weekly on Friday evenings and Saturday mornings. The Temple actively hosts numerous guest speakers, concerts, and cultural events for the Jewish and non-Jewish communities of Alexandria.
Below is a listing of the rabbis who have served the congregation since 1873:
- Marx Klein 1873–1879
- M. Weinstein 1881–1882
- Abraham Meyer 1882–1884
- H. Joseph M. Chumaceiro 1884–1885
- Israel Heinberg 1888–1889
- Hyman Saft 1889–1891
- Louis Schreiber 1892–1895
- Alex Rosenspitz 1895–1901
- Emile Ellinger 1901–1905
- Herman J. Elkin 1905–1907
- Leonard J. Rothstein 1907–1918
- Harry Weiss 1919–1920
- Myron M. Meyer 1921–1926
- H. Cerf Strauss 1927–1930
- Albert G. Baum 1930–1942
- Abraham Shinedling 1943–1944
- H. Bruce Ehrmann 1946–1947
- Mordecai M. Thurman 1947–1951
- Robert J. Schur 1952–1956
- Joel C. Dobin 1957
- Martin I. Hinchin 1958–1988
- James L. Kessler 1988–1989
- Arnold S. Task 1989–2011
- "History of Alexandria Congregations". Encyclopedia of Southern Jewish Communities. Goldring-Woldenberg Institute of Southern Jewish Life. Retrieved 1 January 2012.
- Hinchin, Martin. ""Four Score and Eleven:" A History of the Jews of Rapides Parish, Louisiana".