Temple B'nai Israel, founded in 1904 ~ 5665

Confirmation Class, 1930

The Great depression: 1930 - 1939

In 1930, the impact of the Great Depression was just beginning to be felt and Temple operations continued to be normal. Morris Kuhn became presidentin the fall and the board documents for the year gave no hint that an economic depression was underway. But by early 1931 the Financial Secretary reported that, of a membership of about 85, only 55 members were paying their dues. By July the paying members had dropped to 40 and in October the number was 35. On October 1, 1931, Rabbi Melamed’s monthly salary of $300 (equivalent to $3,700 in 2004) was reduced to $250. RabbiRubenstein, serving as Shochet for the community had his weekly salary reduced from $25.00 to $20.00. Scheduled for this October 31 meeting was the annual election of officers. Both the current president, M. Kuhn and his predecessor, Arthur Puklin was nominated and both declined to serve.

Mr. Kuhn evidently agreed to continue until the board could find a willing candidate. Shortly thereafter Dr, Samuel Klein agreed to take the presidency. For the balance of the year things were normal. The most pertinent subject in the minutes of the November board meeting related to Rabbi Rubenstein, the Shochet. Rubenstein was instructed to “give members prompt attention when they come to have chickens killed”. The board also ordered that non-members should be charged 35 cents for each chicken killed.

By the spring of 1932, the depression began to seriously impact the congregation. Rabbi Melamed’s monthly salary was cut by $50 to $200 and he was given a one-month paid vacation. One board member, Max Goldsmith, complained that “…the Rabbi does not have regular hours for teaching the children…that he sometimes leaves theCheder before 5 ‘o clock ...that he does not give enough time for the children, and there are days when he does not show up at all.” Nevertheless the board voted to renew the Rabbi’s contract for one year.

By September the Temple’s financial situation had worsened. It was reported to the board that because of the inability to pay Rabbis Melamed and Rubenstein their full salaries, they respectively were owed $812 and $620. In addition action to further reduce salaries was taken with Melamed cut to $150 per month and Rubenstein to $15 per week.

In the fall of 1932, ArthurPuklin was again elected president. In October the Financial Secretary reported that there was $275 in the bank.

By 1933, world-wide events began to impact the Aurora Jewish Community. Adolph Hitler had recently assumed the German chancellorship and began the persecution of the Jews. In April a mass meeting of the Jewish communities of Aurora, Elgin and Joliet was held in Aurora to protest the persecution of the German Jews. Resolutions were sent to congressmen, senators and to the U.S, Department of State. At the request of the American Jewish Congress funds were raised in Aurora to carry out the protest work. During this period social activities continued among Temple members. For example “a play given by the Young Peoples of the Y. M. H. A., written and directed by Mrs. Smukler was presented at the Women’s ClubBuilding.” Also, fund-raising carnivals were organized.

Unfortunately, the Temple’s finances continued to weaken. Not only had the wages of the Rabbi and the Shochet been cut significantly, the Temple had been unable to pay the full amount of the reduced monthly sums. Thus the board minutes of October 19, 1933 report that Rabbi Melamed asked the board to “help out financially on base salary due, as he needed funds to meet urgent obligations.” The minutes do not record a response to his request. A few months later the board voted to not renew the Rabbi’s contract and a few days later at a general congregation meeting the board’s recommendation was approved by a vote of 30 to 12. A search was quickly organized and it evidently was not successful because a month later the board agreed to tender a one year contract to Rabbi Melamed at a salary of $1200 a year. This represented a 44% decrease in his previous salary. However, Rabbi Melamed’s duties as Hebrew school teacher were to be suspended and the search for a teacher, to be paid $1000 per year, would be undertaken. This was not acceptable to the congregation and a search by a newly appointed committee was undertaken.

On August 28, 1934 the congregation approved the selection of Rabbi HarryBorwick of Williamsburg, Pennsylvania. He was given a one year contract at a monthly salary of $150. Within eight months the board approved a resolution that his contract not be renewed. Board President, Morris Kuhn, elected president in August of 1934, led a search for a new rabbi. The rabbi selected was Emanuel Green. His annual salary was set at $2000 and he began his term in September, 1935. Shortly thereafter it was announced that Friday night services would be held. Apparently this service which had been instituted in 1925 had been dropped in the preceding ten years.

The 1935 minutes of the board were extremely perfunctory, apparently due to the philosophy of the newly elected TempleSecretary, Attorney Sidney Podolsky. Here is an example of his minutes of the board meeting of September 11, 1935:

“President Kuhn called the meeting to order. There was general discussion of various problems. Holiday tickets were distributed for sale. The meeting was thereupon adjourned.”

It is interesting to note that salary cuts and concerns about the number of members unable to pay their dues that were documented in the first several days of the decade were absent in the mid 1930s. Whether this silence was due to better times or to the briefness of the minutes is unknown. The first mention of salary related to Rabbi Green. He started at the annual rate of $2000, was raised to $2200 and, in May of 1936, he received an increase to $2250 per year. This apparently reflected satisfaction with him. Here is a summary of a report he gave to the board after six months of service:

The Friday Night services were well attended; HebrewSchool advanced from 24 children to 30.Thanks to Mrs. Green’s helping to teach a group of children twice a week, it gave a chance for the Rabbi to select an advanced class to be taught four times a week. The Sunday school is the best it can be under the circumstances. The Scribe seems to be well-liked. Also the special selected services for every Friday night. Jewish books are read very well.”

Morris Weisman was elected President in the Fall of 1936. Soon thereafter the board held a discussion “as to the advisability of headgear harmony.” A board member was appointed “to take charge of seeing the members and urging them to buy yarmulkes.” Also addressed was the matter of card playing in the Temple. When the building was completed in 1927 one room was used by members to play cards. This practice often occurred every evening, except for Shabbat, and on Sunday mornings. In October, 1936, the minutes report that: “serious consideration was given to the suggestion that card playing be barred on Sunday morning due to the need for the playing room to be used for Sunday school purposes”.

On February 28, 1937, a gala celebration of the tenth anniversary of the Y. M. H. A. Temple building was held. The principal speaker engaged was the nationally famous Zionist and Jewish leader, Rabbi Stephen Wise. A plaque was unveiled, listing the officers, directors, trustees, and building committee members for the 1927 project. The plaque is still displayed in the Edgelawn building.

The May 20, 1937 Board meeting saw the renewal of Rabbi Green’s contract for another year at an annual salary of $3120, a 56% increase from his starting salary in 1934 – a resounding message of the satisfaction of the community. It also possibly reflected the expanding health of the economy, particularly in Aurora.

Samuel Kuhn was re-elected as President for 1938-39 but he stepped down a few months later because of compelling business interests. In accordance with the by-laws, Max Goldsmith, first vice president, assumed the presidency. Unfortunately Goldsmith died with a few months and no president was named until Morris Weisman was elected for a one year term in March of 1939.

The first board meeting of 1939 opened with a discussion of the congregation’s financials which showed an overall deficit of $600 for the preceding 6 months. Rabbi Green was retained for another year with a small increase in salary. Morris Weisman was re-elected to serve another one year term ending September, 1940. The Temple was able to survive the depression. However, world war was looming.