Temple B'nai Israel, founded in 1904 ~ 5665


Rabbi Nathan Rubinstein and family circa 1912

The 1920s - a decade of growth and opportunity

Following the end of World War I the Jewish community of Aurora entered a period of growth and cohesiveness. Beginning as a loose group of worshipers meeting in rented quarters above retail stores in downtown Aurora, by the 1920s worship and community gatherings took place in a dedicated location on the third and fourth floors of the Ginsburg Building located next to the Aurora National Bank (now Banco Popular) on Broadway. The group had named itself the Young Men’s Hebrew Association (Y.M.H.A.) in 1916, a name that was to be maintained until 1961.

A desire for a structure of its own was given constant attention. But first the organization had to formally organize itself. It was not until 1923 that a charter as a non-profit organization was obtained from the State of Illinois, by-laws were drafted to guide the governance of the Y.M.H.A. and officers were chosen.

The earliest existing minutes of meetings of the congregational board of directors are dated January 11, 1923. Interestingly, the wording of the minutes suggests the members viewed their organization as a club or lodge. The members of the board are often referred to as “brothers.” In fact, the first paragraph of the minutes, referring to minutes of a previous meeting includes a correction “that the Club should loan” some money to the entertainment committee. Moreover, the group voted to reinstate a member and waived the “initiation fee” of $10 and instead charged a reinstatement fee of $5. It was at this meeting that the Committee on By-Laws reported on its progress. The President is identified as J.M. Custer. Also Rabbi N. Rubenstein is mentioned in the minutes as making a suggestion on a particular topic. The minutes are submitted by A.L. Adler, Secretary.


YMHA membership in 1920

Two weeks later the Board met to review the constitution and by-laws drafted by a committee led by Dr. Samuel Klein. In addition the Board voted to “charge the Jewish Woman’s [sic] Council and the B’nai B’rith rental for the use of the hall.

On February 15, 1923, the Board unanimously approved the constitution and by-laws and directed the Secretary to communicate with the Illinois Secretary of State to secure a charter for the Y.M.H.A.

A month later, the Board met to nominate and elect Y.M.H.A. officers. J.M. Custer, President; R.H. Hoffman, Vice President; A.L. Adler, Secretary; and J. Zidell, Treasurer. Three directors were elected by the board: M. Podolsky, M. Kuhn and J. Goldsmith. Four additional directors were appointed by the President, J.M. Custer: Max Goldsmith, C. Sheer, Dr. S. Klein, and C. Swimmer.

Highlights from board minutes of the first official year of the Y.M.H.A follow:

  • April 15 - a committee appointed to plan “an entertainment” for the purpose of raising funds for a Temple building.
  • May 8 - five teams appointed to “see” delinquencies. The president appoints a Building Committee composed of the entire board.
  • May 10 - discussion of potential lots available in Aurora.
  • October 11 - report that $3500 in pledges received from Yom Kippur night appeal.
  • November 8 - C. Swimmer reports he has secured a lot on Lincoln Avenue. $100 put down as an option on the purchase, with total price (including a house) of $8500. Board unanimously approves.
  • November, 22, 1923 - “Dr. S. Klein appointed to speak to the ladies of the Jewish Woman’s Council in regard to the Y.M.H.A., objecting to the privilege of putting the Sunday School Children whose parents are not members of the Y.M.H.A. to be put on programs in preference to other children of members, where the Y.M.H.A. is to bear the expense of this program.”

YMHA built in 1927 on Lincoln Ave.

1924 - 1927

1924 began with the election of new Y.M.H.A. officers. D. Sherman assumed the presidency. Rabbi Nathan Rubenstein reported 22 children enrolled in the chader. During the rest of the year the board wrestled with finances, particularly addressing the issue of fund-raising to pay for the cost of the lot and to meet the general expenses of the congregation. Considerable time was spent on discussions regarding collection of unpaid dues and securing and collecting pledges. Rummage sales, dances, and a Jewish Theater party in Chicago were among the fund-raising approaches selected.

Herman Hoffman was elected President for 1925. At the first meeting of the year the board minutes include the following: “Rabbi Rubenstein then says a few words to President Hoffman on the welfare of the Club, especially of the non-cooperation he has received, of the new Temple and the need of more children in his classes”. No further remarks relative to this statement appear in the minutes.

The year 1925 began with considerable attention to purchasing a local church building in place of building on the Lincoln Avenue lot. After much discussion the board voted to not pursue the church building purchase. The minutes then report that the Building Committee chair, Dr. Samuel Klein resigned from the committee. On January 12th a special meeting was called to revisit the church purchase option and “after much talking on [the] subject it was decided not to reconsider, but to start active work on building our place on our own lot”. Visits to various congregations for the purpose of viewing their structures for ideas ensued.

On February 12, 1925, the board minutes record a special meeting “called to consider hiring of a new Rabbi, as Rev. Rubenstein handed in his resignation to take effect as soon as we have a new man, but until only after Passover”. A search committee was appointed. At the regular meeting a week later the board discussed various applications for the position and voted to invite the “Kankakee Rabbi here again” at a salary of $50.00 a week. A month later we learn that the Kankakee Rabbi turned down the offer. The following then appears in the minutes: “[The] President informs members that Rabbi Rubenstein wishes his position back as he is not going into business as he decided at first. It was unanimously voted to hire Rabbi Rubenstein to his previous position ‘with instructions to improve.’”

By April the Building Committee issues are a prime topic. Doctor Klein, who apparently has returned to the Building Committee, announces he will “introduce plans for Building of the Temple.” But three weeks later the board is discussing the purchase of ParkPlaceChurch. Most board members are favorable, although some key members indicate that “it will be cheaper to build, than buy and have what you want.” Despite this favorable support for purchase no further mention of this opportunity appears in the minutes and for the balance of the year attention was focused on the plans for the building.

The minutes of the October meeting include the following: “It was announced that on Friday, October 23rd and every Friday after, services will be held in English by Rabbi Rubenstein.”

President Hoffman was re-elected to serve his second consecutive term in 1926 and Rabbi Rubenstein installed all officers “very impressively.” The final minutes for 1925 indicate that “Vice President Goldsmith appointed to see that Rabbi sees all new Jewish people in community and have them sign Pledge card” [apparently for the building fund].

During the first meeting of 1926 the financial report for 1925 was presented. The deficit for the previous year was reported as $608.04. Nine directors were appointed: Max Goldsmith, Dr. Samuel Klein, Joseph Swimmer, Julius Zidell, Charles Sheer, Morris Podolsky, J.D. Annenberg, George Alschuler, and Morris Kuhn.

On July 1, 1926 a special meeting was convened to discuss the status of the building project. Dr. Klein, Building Committee Chairman, “… turned over the bids and specifications of the building to the President … and Bro. George Alschuler, chairman of the [building] finance committee spoke on the financial side.” The board then voted “to act on finances and execute contracts.”

1928-1929

The new Temple building was dedicated late in 1927. On January 12, 1928 the Board of Directors voted its thanks and appreciation to the Building Committee. The members of this committee recognized for their efforts “for the zeal and sincerity they have shown in building this beautiful Temple and social center” included the following, many who will be familiar to older congregants: J.D. Annenberg, J. Swimmer, Morris Kuhn, Max Goldsmith, Dr. S. Klein, A.M. Hirsh, Charles Sheer, Sam Fridiker, Lewis Cohen., Irving Lisberg, and Harry Aront. Finance Committee members recognized were: Geo. W Alschuler, Abraham Block, Charles Sheer, Sam Fridiker, L. Barnat, J. Zidell, and N. Ginsberg.

Shortly thereafter a library of Jewish books was established and the purchase of a cemetery was put on the agenda. However, in the latter a Temple cemetery was not established until the 1960s.

It should be noted that during this early period officers were nominated by board members and were elected by them as well. This is in contrast to the current practice of the total congregation voting on a slate recommended by a board nominating committee. In the Fall of 1928, William Gordon was elected by the board as President, defeating William Kuhn by a vote of 20 to 12.

In October, 1928, the board, by unanimous vote, agreed to terminate the services of Rabbi Rubenstein within 60 days. Two days later a “special meeting of the Ladies and the Men” voted by closed ballot, 51 to 45, to terminate the Rabbi. A search for a new rabbi was then launched. In December the Board voted to engage Rabbi Carl N. Herman for a two month trial. (Unfortunately within six months the Board authorized a search for a new rabbi to be undertaken.) The board also approved an offer to Rabbi Rubenstein to serve as shochet and chazzan at the rate of $25 per week.

In April, 1929, attorney Arthur Puklin was unanimously elected President of the Congregation by the board. For reasons unknown at a board meeting on October 12, 1929, Puklin was re-elected by acclamation. At this meeting monthly dues were set at $5.00 for married members and $2.50 for single members. Only a few days later the great Wall Street Crash occurred and the economy was crippled for the next eleven years as the Great Depression set in.

At its final meeting in 1929 the board approved the recommendation that Rabbi Irvin Melamed be elected rabbi of the congregation.