Temple Emanuel, 1950's
Holmdene Avenue and East Fulton Street
When Jacob Levy, died in 1857, shortly after his arrival from France, the small local Jewish community felt responsible for his burial. Thus was born the first Jewish association in Grand Rapids which is called the Benevolent and Burial Society. It was the beginning of Temple Emanuel, a part of Reform Judaism. Reform Judaism was begun in the United States in 1843.
Joseph Houseman was chairman of the association and David Newborg was secretary. A half-acre tract was purchased in what is now Oak Hill Cemetery. It was the first Jewish burial plot in this part of the state.
The members began conducting Sabbath services and religious school classes in homes. They were involved in benevolent work and gave financial assistant to transient Jews but also contributed to the welfare work in Grand Rapids. The church was incorporated in 6 November 1871. Sixteen members pledged subscriptions and they rented quarters on the second floor of the Pierce block (southwest corner of Monroe Avenue and Erie Street. The quarters was dedicated 19 July 1872 with Julius Houseman as President of the congregation and Rabbit Elias Eppstein of Milwaukee conducting the ceremonies. Their first minister was Rabbi Wolf Weinstein who was followed by a line of Rabbis including Emanuel Gerechter, N. I. Benson, Marx Moses, Bernard Cohn, Nathan Rosenau, Felix Jesselson, Gustave N. Haussman, Moise Bergman, Emanuel Kahn, Frederick E. Braun, Elkin C. Voorsanger, Charles J. Freund, Philip F. Waterman and Jerome D. Folkman.
The first major expansion of the congregation was made in 1881 when they erected a new house of worship on Ransom Avenue and Fountain Street with forty families in the congregation. By 1943, it became evident that a larger edifice was needed and a campaign was begun and the new church building was completed in 1953.
In 1895, it seemed as though the congregation would lack interest and services might not be held. Joseph Houseman said that he would resign if services were not held and it was a pivotal point in the life of the church. Julius Houseman, a cousin of Joseph, was the first permanent Jewish settler here. He crossed the Atlantic in 1851 and arrived in Grand Rapids in August of that year at the age of 20. By 1854 he had established the business of Houseman, Alsberg and Company. Joseph joined the company three years later. The other Jewish families in the community were Albert Alsberg, Joseph Newborg and David Newborg making a total of five families at that time.
The Jewish community is not only involved in its church life but they are very involved in local civic affairs and charitable organizations.
Seventeen members of the congregation founded the Grand Rapids Lodge No. 238, Independent Order of B'nai B'rith. Julius Houseman was the first president. After he died in 1891 the organization was renamed the Julius Houseman Lodge.
Temple Emanuel is the second oldest Jewish synagogue in Michigan.
Created: 3 January 2008