Temple B'nai Israel, founded in 1904 ~ 5665

The war years

The Second World War began in September, 1939 with the German invasion of Poland, followed by lightening-like invasions of Belgium, Holland and France. Within a few months the dark war cloud began to cover most of Europe. As with most Americans, the Aurora Jewish community began to be concerned about the impact of the war upon our country. By 1940, the atrocities against European Jews had begun. While rumors of the Holocaust were circulating among Aurora’s Jewish families, the extent of the extermination was not fully realized until after the war ended in 1945.

Unfortunately, Temple records of the war years are very sparse. Many men, and some women, served in the armed forces. A plaque in the Temple honoring this group lists 65 individuals and a second plaque honors three who lost their lives in the war: Bernard Goldsmith, brother of Zalmon Goldsmith and Gail Newman; Sigmund Diamond, husband of Frieda Zidell and brother of Rose Rosenberg; and Louis Daybook, son of Mr. and Mrs. Harry Daybook, long time Temple members, and related to the Katz family.

The minutes of the Temple Board are missing for the period 1940-1945. However, there is evidence that the Board met regularly. Morris Weisman, elected president in 1939, continued to serve through 1942. Arthur Puklin took over, serving a three year term through 1945. He was succeeded in 1946 by Foster Grossman.

During the war the Scribe was suspended, probably because of the need to conserve paper and possibly because the Aurora chapter of the National Council of Jewish Women (NCJW) continued their newsletter and added various community-related items to their standard content. It was not until 1947 that Scribe publication was resumed. However, the three women’s organizations, the aforementioned NCJW, Hadassah and the Ladies’ Aid (soon to be renamed The Sisterhood) held regular meetings throughout the war and their minutes reflect some of the wartime activities undertaken by the Jewish community.

In December, 1941, just days before the Pearl Harbor attack, the Ladies’ Aid began a program of sending Chanukah packages to the local Jewish boys in the Army and, reflective of the war clouds, began a “Red Cross Sewing Group”. The minutes of October 12, 1943, report that packages were to be sent “to our overseas servicemen….A maximum of $2.50 is to be spent for each package”. From time-to-time the organization sent sums of money, usually $20, to the Red Cross. In addition fund raising events in support of the Temple continued to be held.

Meanwhile, the Aurora chapter of Hadassah, chartered in the 1920s, established a “Community Resettlement Committee” for Jewish refugees from Germany in 1939, helping individuals and families with jobs, housing, vocational training and other necessities. A committee headed by Caroline Alschuler was engaged in assisting the refugees. After the war more displaced families arrived and received similar assistance. Its Zionist mission and fund raising to help the in-gathering of Europe’s Jewish refugees in Palestine was an important activity in the pre- and post-war years, as was its assistance in establishing hospitals and clinics for Jews and Arabs alike.

Sisterhood minutes during this period often refer to the Temple Board of Directors as “the men’s board”. This reflected the fact that no women were allowed to be Temple board members. However, shortly thereafter the Temple by-laws were changed to permit two representatives from Sisterhood to serve as non-voting observers at the meetings of the Board. It was not until 1978 that the by-laws were changed to allow women to become members of the Temple with voting privileges and in that year Edith Katz was the first woman to be elected to the Temple Board.

During the War religious activities continued. Rabbi Emanuel Green, who began his tenure in 1935, continued to serve until 1942 when he left to take a pulpit in Worcester, Massachusetts. He was replaced by Rabbi Albert Troy who was to occupy the pulpit for nine years. Rabbi Troy was called into army service in 1945 and two temporary rabbis, Rabbi Magenze and Rabbi Schwartz served in his absence.

The problem of poor attendance at Friday night services was brought up in the Sisterhood minutes from time to time. For example, in March, 1945 Sisterhood minutes reported a decision to not serve refreshments after Friday night services,” unless a special occasion warrants it, because of such small attendance.” Shortly after the war ended, in September, 1945, Friday night services were suspended until the return of Rabbi Troy.

In accordance with its historical mission the Sisterhood’s primary goal was to serve the Jewish community’s needs through programs in support of the Temple’s religious and social activities and to provide a social outlet for Jewish women. Sisterhood Presidents during this decade included Mrs. Charles Wilner, Mrs. Zalmon Goldsmith, Mrs. Ben Polen (two terms), Mrs. Morris Bender, Mrs. Lester Kaufmann, Mrs. Sam Becker, and Mrs. Arthur Puklin.

In contrast, the Aurora Chapter of the National Council of Jewish Women very active in the community. Founded in 1922, the Aurora Chapter, was dedicated to education, social action and community services. Its activities focused not only on the Jewish community but also the community at large, with emphasis on contributing to the quality of American life for all. The Council worked closely with the Sisterhood on projects and activities that benefited the Temple. Many Sisterhood members were members of the Council, but not all. Council membership was generally smaller than Sisterhood members. During the 1940s two women served as Council Presidents: Mrs. J.E. Alschuler and Mrs. Marshall Goldman.

One of the local wartime Council projects was the support of the Jack and Jill Nursery School which provided day care for children of working parents, many of whom were employed in local factories producing goods needed by the armed forces. Council leaders were also active in the nation’s War Bond drives. In fact, Mrs. Arthur Puklin spoke in support of the War Bond Campaign on the local radio station, WMRO. Other projects included raising funds for German Jewish Children’s Aid, supporting an Army/Navy Welfare project in Aurora, sponsoring the Russian Relief Program, and even contributing money for the establishment of a call system for the U.S. Naval Hospital in St. Albans, New York. In 1944, support was given to the National Jewish Welfare Board, which provided services to Jews in the armed forces. Also in that year the Council became involved in support of the President’s Committee for Fair Employment Practices, the forerunner of today’s fair employment programs. Once the war was over, Council efforts turned to numerous social projects such as the national Head Start Program, the mental health center movement, and the Aurora Volunteer Services Bureau.

One of the several programs where Council and Sisterhood worked together was that of collecting and shipping clothing to Rabbi Troy in Germany. Troy had been assigned responsibility for the care of several hundred Jewish orphans in Germany following the end of hostilities. In response to his plea for clothing and related items the two women’s organizations collected several shipments of clothes, food and medical supplies that were sent to Rabbi Troy in 1946.

Post-war growth

Rabbi Troy was discharged from the army and was given an overwhelming welcome when he returned to his pulpit in January, 1947. His return may have been marred by the fact that one year before, in January, 1946, in a special meeting the Temple Board discussed what the minutes identified as “Our rabbinical problem: whether or not we were to retain Rabbi Troy or to secure a new Rabbi”. The discussion was triggered by a letter from Troy stating that he would be shipped overseas and probably would be there for an undetermined period. The board then approved a motion to remove him from the payroll (apparently he was being paid while in service) and to search for a new rabbi. A week later a letter to Rabbi Troy was drafted and read to the board to that effect. The board, evidently thinking more clearly, then reversed its previous decision. Instead it voted to write Rabbi Troy and advise him that he was being temporarily removed from the payroll. Troy served the congregation until 1952. It should be noted that Rabbi Troy was married in 1948 with some members and officers present. It appears that this was the only marriage of a rabbi of our congregation in our history. Mrs. Troy served a term as president of Hadassah during her stay here.

During the balance of the decade the Temple leadership faced many issues that were faced by their antecedents and that would be faced by their successors. They include: the challenges of retaining and building membership; the level of dues and their collection; and matching income with expense.

One problem that was somewhat unique to that era was that of the kosher butcher shop. There continued to be dissatisfaction with the management. On February 1, 1947 the Temple withdrew all financial support “to any butcher as of February 1, 1948”, but then voted to “investigate the possibility of securing a new and younger Jewish butcher”. Also, from time to time access to the butcher shop was used as a method to collect unpaid dues. For example, in October, 1946, President Irving Lisberg, elected in 1946, instructed the recording secretary “to contact [name omitted] and advise him that delinquent dues must be settled and he must continue on a paying basis, or the Board will exercise the provision of the By-Laws prohibiting the butcher from serving him”

As the Temple board geared up its programs and added staff following the war, it began to suffer from significant deficits. In January of 1947, it was reported that “expenses had increased approximately $5000 over the previous year due to salary increases and necessary repairs and decorating”. This represented a 39 percent increase and a call for an increase in dues and contributions from members immediately went out. Three months later the board conducted “a lengthy discussion on the progress of collections and the need to increase dues”. The names of delinquent members were distributed to board members for the purpose of personal contact and collection. One month later the board minutes indicate that “a long discussion on dues collection” was held. By mid-year motions were approved to “request the Sisterhood quota be set for the fiscal year at $1500” instead of the $1000 it had agreed to give from the proceeds of its fund-raising activities. At the same time the Aurora Jewish Welfare fund was asked to allocate to the Temple $3000 “for use in operating the Sunday School and education purposes.” (The Aurora Jewish Welfare Fund continued to allocate that amount annually for the next two decades.) It should be noted that for decades it had been common practice to approve Temple budgets with relatively substantial deficits. The deficit amount was the target communicated to the community in planning fund-raising programs and more often than not the funds were raised with a flurry of events including carnivals, dinner dances, raffles, etc.

If there was one negative in this period of post-war activity, it was the report of Jerry Katz, manager of the Temple basketball team. At the December, 1946, meeting of the board Jerry Katz reported that “…after being virtually assured that the Temple team would be admitted to the Protestant Church League, even to the extent of being included in the published schedule, the members of this league voted down the proposed amendment to the constitution which was necessary to admit teams of other than the Protestant faith into the League”…thus denying membership to the team. Katz then spoke of a proposed BBYO league representing Rockford, Elgin, Joliet and Waukegan. There is no mention of the Board’s reaction to this report nor does the subject of the basketball team appear in subsequent records.

President Zalmon Goldsmith was elected in September, 1947, and within a few weeks addressed a general membership meeting, giving a progress report on what he termed a successful year. He cited good attendance at Friday night services and good attendance at daily and Sunday school classes. There had been “a great number” of Bar Mitzvahs and “the first confirmation class in years. He referred to the many social functions sponsored by the Temple and the various national women’s organizations. For the future he mentioned “the possibility of a Jewish cemetery in Aurora, and the establishment of a building fund”.

The desire for a Jewish cemetery in Aurora had been a subject of board discussions beginning with the first meeting following the incorporation of the synagogue in 1923. During the ensuing years Jews, mostly from Eastern Europe, who died in Aurora were buried in cemeteries in Chicago. The exception was the group of German Jewish families who, in the 1920s, purchased a section in Spring Lake Cemetery on South Lincoln Avenue. While being called a Jewish section, over the years the graves of non-Jews were mixed into the area. The most interesting features are the graves of the Alschuler family representing most of their deceased. Adjacent to the Alschuler plot are those of several early Jewish families who, along with the Alschulers, emigrated from Germany in the latter half of the 19th Century. Finally, under the leadership of Goldsmith and the venerable Dr. Samuel Klein, a section of Lincoln Memorial Park on Route 30, the Lincoln Highway was chosen and eventually a contract was negotiated for the Temple Cemetery.

In the decade's final years, as Israel achieved statehood in 1948, money raised by the Aurora Jewish Welfare Fund increased significantly. In that year a net of $55,000 was collected and disbursed, equivalent to nearly $450,000 in today’s dollars!