The first permanent settler, Julius Houseman, arrived in Grand Rapids in August of 1852. He was twenty years old and had left his native Bavaria the year before find freedom and success in the United States. Grand Rapids was a community of about 2700 people at this time. Five years later there were five Jewish families in Grand Rapids - the Julius Houseman, Joseph Houseman, Albert Alsberg, Joseph Newborg, and David Newborg families. In 1857, a young Jewish man, Joseph Houseman, found his way to Grand Rapids and died of consumption at the age of twenty-eight. The small group of local Jews felt responsible for his burial and as a result the first Jewish association in Grand Rapids, Temple Emanuel was born. The organization was named the Benevolent and Burial Society in 1857, with Joseph Houseman as chairman and David Newborg as secretary.

The five contributed a sum of $100 and authorized the chairman to purchase a parcel of land suitable for a cemetery. One-half acre at the corner of Hall Street and Union Avenue in the present Oakhill Cemetery was purchased on September 21, 1857. Today it is one of three Jewish Cemeteries in Grand Rapids. The other two being in Greenwood Cemetery and Washington Cemetery. The Benevolent and Burial Society arranged all Jewish burials and continues today, ninety-seven years later, as the Cemetery Committee of Temple Emanuel. The first fifteen years, Sabbath services and religious school were conducted in members homes. A desk and an ark were soon purchased by the Holyday Celebration Committee and were moved from place to place as needed. By 1869, there were about thirteen families and twenty-five young men in the Jewish community.

On February 7, 1869, the Benevolent and Burial Society was reorganized as the Hebrew Benevolent Association with the object to "aid the Jewish poor and furtherance of Judaism in their midst."

On October 2, 1871, seventeen men met at the home of Benjamin Geis at 1 Bronson St. (now Crescent) to incorporate for the purpose of holding divine worship. They agreed to follow the Reform Judaism and became the first Jewish Church in Michigan to do so. This is a more liberal form of belief. Those seventeen men were:

Julius Houseman, President

Benjamin Geis, Vice-President

Jacob Barth, Treasurer

Jacob I. Levi, Secretary

Moses May, Trustee

Nathan Rodman, Trustee

Henry Pressberg, Trustee

David M. Amberg

A. Leavitt

Sidney A. Hart

B. Heart

A. Rodman

H. Kuppenheimer

J. Kuppenheimer

Isaac C. Levi

Henry Weil

Jacob Wolf

A second meeting was held November 6, 1871 and sixteen people pledged annual subscriptions of $5,800 to assure support of the organization. The members now rented a hall in the Pierce Block on the second floor. On December 18, 1871, a meeting was held to study a proposed constitution and by-laws. They also discussed the naming of the congregation. Several names were mentioned and at the following meeting "Emanu-el" was chosen.

The Ladies Hebrew Benevolent Society was formed in 1871 with Mrs. Jacob Wolf, president, and Mrs. Benjamin Geis, secretary "for the purpose of assisting all needy poor of all denominations." They pledged to "relieve poverty, nurse the sick and 'lay out' the dead." It soon became identified as an auxillary of the religious body. In 1924 the name was changed to Temple Emanuel Sisterhood.

Pierce's Concert Hall on Canal Street, their first place of worship, was formally dedicated, Jul 19, 1872. About three years later, the congregation moved to Godfrey's Block, 2nd floor, on Ionia Street, one block south of Monroe Avenue. They remained there until August 28, 1882 when the new synagogue was completed on the southeast corner of Fountain Street and Ransom Avenue. The new synagogue had a seating capacity of 300. The temple was consecrated by Rev. E. Epstein of B'nai Jeshurun Temple, Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

The first Rabbi was Wolf Weinstein who served the congregation from October 13, 1872 until October 1, 1874 for the salary of $1,000. This was raised to $1,500 the following year. The masters Wolf and Rodman were the first to be confirmed.

On June 28, 1873, the Articles of Association were signed. The officers in 1872 were Julius Houseman, President (also Mayor of Grand Rapids); B. Geis, Vice President; J. Barth, Treasurer; Jacob I. Levi, Secretary; Trustees- Moses May, N. Rodman and H. J. Pressburg.

A Jewish Young Peoples Society was organized to "improve their minds upon literature. The officers were Morris Heyman, President; Miss Mathilda Steinhart, Vice-President; Morris Houseman, Secretary and Miss Ella Heart, Treasurer. There were twenty members among them the Messrs. Elsedore, Danziger, Joe Wolf and Miss Bella Loubensteine. Rev Emanuel Gerechter helped with the organization. The Reverend Weinstein was dismissed for "using improper language to the children" and replaced by Reverence Emanuel Gerechter. While rabbi of Congregation Emanu-El, he also held positions of professor of German at Central High School and at the Ladies' Bacon Seminary.

At the same time, the trustees appointed a School Board consisting of Joseph Houseman, S. Lowenbaum, and Jacob Wolf. During this period the cemetery rules required that the members were to take turns acting as "watchers" over the deceased. If unable to perform this duty, they must pay five dollar fines to employ substitutes. One extremely delicate and controversial matter - whether to worship with or without hats was referred to often. Motions to table the discontinuing of wearing hats were tabled until future meetings and was rarely referred to again. In 1874 a price of $10 per family was set on High Holyday seats.

On June 6, 1875, the Grand Rapids Lodge No. 238, Independent Order of B'nai B'rith was founded. The name was later changed to Julius Houseman Lodge in honor of the first president of this lodge. As the same men supported both Emanu-El and the Hebrew Benevolent Society, a merger was consummated to eliminate a duplication of efforts.

All the Society's funds and records were given to the congregation and $500 was set aside toward the purchase of a site for a synagogue. It was stipulated that the congregation must establish a committee on charity to carry on the benevolent work. The cornerstone was laid on October 11, 1881 with the Rev. Marx Moses officiating. There were now forty families. The structure cost $15,000 of which all but $3,000 had been raised through the Hebrew Fair organized by the women of the congregation. The congregation was without a rabbi at the time of the public consecration of the new Temple.

In the 1880's a difference of opinion among the members regarding forms of worship made it essential that separation occur. Fifteen families seceded from Temple Emanuel and dedicated Congregation Ahavas Achim (this body later merged with Beth Israel to form the Conservative synagogue known as Ahavas Israel). Prospects for support of the temple were so poor in 1885, that the church rented rooms to the Swedenborgians and later to the Unitarian Society. In 1891 the officers were:

D. M. Amberg, President;

A. S. Davis, Vice-President;

Isaac C. Levi, Treasurer;

A. M. Amberg, Secretary;

Trustees-Joseph Houseman, B. Allen, Abraham May and Jay Wolf.

Some of the Rabbi's were: Rev. Wolf Weinstein, 1872-73

Rev. Emanuel Gerechter, 1873-

Rev. N. I. Benson, 1880

Rev. Marx Moses, 1881-82

Rev. Bernard Cohn

Rev. Nathan Rosenau

Rev. Felix Jesselson, 1890-1897 (in 1905 he returned to serve as Rabbi at Ahavas Achim.)

Lay Rabbis:

Rev. Gustave N. Haussman, 189?

Rev. Moise Bergman, 190?-1905

Rev. Emanuel Kahn, 1905-

Rev. Frederick E. Braun, 1911-1914

Rev. Elkan C. Voorsanger, 1914-1915

Rev. Charles J. Freund, 1916-1920

Rev. Philip F. Waterman, 1921-1936

Rev. Jerome D. Folkman, 1937-1947

The Temple auditorium suffered a fire in the 1890's. An adjustment was made by the insurance company and by making repairs themselves the members saved enough money to purchase memorial windows in honor of Julius Houseman and Moses May. Fountain Street Baptist Church offered the use of their sanctuary during the repair of the Temple. In 1895 the attendance was so poor that there was a possibility of services being discontinued. Joseph Houseman, threatening to resign if services were not held, shocked the trustees into action. Meetings were held to revive interest in Jewish matters. In 1899, the ladies of the congregation organized into the Julius Houseman Ten under the leadership of Henrietta Houseman and Hattie Amberg. Besides money-raising activities, they worked in conjunction with the district nurses. Four members of the Ladies Hebrew Benevolent Society served on the board of management of the Union Benevolent Association Hospital, which later became Blodgett Hospital.

In the early 1900's Temple finances improved and a decision was made to rent the building only to those organizations which would not perform the baptismal act. During WWI, Mrs. Morris Friedman and Mrs. Henry Houseman organized the first church-sponsored Red Cross Unit in Grand Rapids. Active workers were: Mrs. Joseph Siegel, Miss Leona Siegel, Mrs. Ben Lubetsky, Mrs. Frank Siedman, Mrs. Norton Siegel, Mrs. Henry Deutsch, Mrs. Grace Treusch, Mrs. Joseph Hart, Mrs. Louis Braudy, Mrs. Sam Braudy, Mrs. Julius Gutmann, Mrs. A. May, Mrs. Max Baer, Miss Miriam Friedman, Mrs. David Amberg, Mrs. Louis Barth, Mrs. Herman Stern and Mrs. Louis

Grombacher. The young men who served in the war from the Jewish community were:
Julius Amberg, Felix Houseman, Herman Treusch, Edward Friedman, Samuel Braudy, David E. Weiss, Arthur Siegel and G. Howard Gutmann.

There was a period of months after Rabbi Freund left the rabbinate before a new rabbi was engaged. Temple attendance suffered because of the congregation's dependence on student rabbis. A few years earlier when a similar situation existed, many Jewish people regularly attended the worship of a certain liberal Christian sect. This body lacked a meeting place, and the Temple members lacked fund to support their building. It seemed a logical time for the Christian minister to call a joint meeting to propose that the two groups form one Christian organization. Discussion was lively and interested. Then, in one of the most dramatic moments in Temple history, Samuel Braudy arose and broke up the meeting with the stirring words, "The Lion of Judea is great enough for all of us. We invite all of you to become Jews!"

In 1937 a Young Folks Temple League was formed with 35 youths participating. Early presidents were Libby Berkowitz and Meyer Ginsburg. Some of the early members were: Robert Berger, Elaine Warsaw, Myron Kozman, Doris Stern, Jessie Miller, Emil Levy, Don Laskey, Flossie Weiner and Eleanor Klein. In the 1930's the Boys Scouts, Temple Emanuel Troop #20 was organized with Samuel Horowitz as Scoutmaster, Ben Fishman as Chairman and assisted by Rabbi Folkman, Ben Singer and Joseph Kozman. The members of the first troop were:

Gerald Belfer

Lawrence Bernstein

Avery Cosmer

Philmore Dennen

Don Goldberg

Aaron Golden

Stuart Hansen

Louis Kaufman

Morris Kleiman

Isadore Kleiman

Jacob Markham

Donald Morrison

Ben Zion Plous

Louis Ruff

Arthur Silverstein

Edward Silverstein

Leonard Singer

Don Warsaw

The Newcomers Club, an outgrowth of the Sisterhood Hospitality Committee, was organized in 1937. Among the charter members were Mrs. Joseph Wolf, Mrs. M. Segar, Mrs. David Satin, Mrs. Roy Silverman, Mrs. Ben Wepman, Mrs. Norman Smith and Mrs. William Deutsch. Mrs. A. J. Warsaw sponsored the group for ten years.

A Men's Club was organized in 1944 and the charter members were:

Harold Albert,

Sam Albert,

Hy Bylan,

Rabbi Folkman,

Sam Friedman,

Meyer Ginsburg,

Joseph Goldman,

William Jacobson,

Newton Levee,

Abe Warsaw,

Fabian Marks,

Dudley Ratner,

Cyril Rill,

Arthur Scheiner,

Nathan Sklar,

Abe Fleck,

Leonard Barnett

Henry Weiner.

Temple membership has so increased that the board questioned the advisability of accepting any more new members. In December, 1943, a Temple Emanuel Building Fund Committee was created to investigate the possibilities of buying the house behind the Temple for Religious School purposes. Members of the committee were Philip Newman (Chairman), Mrs. Joseph Hart, Gustave A. Wolf, Mrs. Bertha Houseman, Harold Braudy, Abe Kollenberg, Mrs. G. Howard Gutmann, Newton Levee, Louis Brown, Ben Singer, Max Baer, Martin Fox, M. M. Weiss, Sam Friedman, Abe Warsaw,Bernard Baum, Hy Bylan, Silas F. Albert and Rabbi Folkman, ex officio.

The initial campaign was so successful that they decided to authorize a campaign to purchase a site and construct a new building. Within a year $217,000 had been pledged. The site at Holmdene Avenue and Fulton Street was purchased and ground breaking took place on January 15, 1951. A special service was held on Friday, May 23, 1952 to bid farewell to the old Temple.

A goal of 200 members set in 1937 was at last achieved in January, 1953. The total of indiviluals is 600. The three precepts that Temple Emanuel has always held to are Patriotism, Religion and Education. Their children are taught from the beginning that "a good name is rather to be chosen than great riches." Their ceremonies are the Naming of the Child, Bar Mitzvah and Bat Mitzvah, Confirmation and Marriage. The Naming of the Child and Bar and Bat Mitzvahs are ceremonies held in the homes and these records are kept in the family. Confirmation and Marriage ceremonies are conducted in the Temple.

Transcriber: Evelyn Sawyer
Created: 4 August 2005
URL: http://kent.migenweb.net/churches/jewish/TEhistory.html