Temple B'nai Israel, founded in 1904 ~ 5665

Decade of further growth and opportunity: 1950 - 1959

The early years
The post-war boom continued into the 1950s as the country continued the transition from war economy to one of relative calm and solid growth. President Harry S. Truman, who gained the presidency upon the death of Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1945, completed his second term in 1953. Truman, an outspoken and sometimes feisty leader, presided over the Korean War (1950-53), a lesser known conflict even though it resulted in the death of over 33,000 U.S. troops. He was succeeded in 1953 by Dwight D. Eisenhower, the great World War II military leader. Eisenhower led the country through relatively prosperous and peaceful times during his two terms in office. Having attained statehood in 1948, Israel was busy building its economy when it was rocked by war in 1956 in what was called The Sinai Campaign. This war ended in victory and led to further growth and consolidation of the Country. While our Temple archives seldom openly reflect world-wide social and political issues, they were always in the minds of the Aurora Jewish Community.

At its first meeting of the decade, January 23, 1950, the Temple board, still led by President Zalmon Goldsmith, met jointly with the Sisterhood board to consider a joint cook book and ad book as a means to raise $5,000. The minutes record joint enthusiasm about the project.

Next on the agenda was the recurring subject within the Temple’s history: increasing dues as means of increasing Temple income. Several suggestions were put forth including one by former president Arthur Puklin that “…rather than soliciting outside aid from the general public as we do with ad books, picnic raffles, etc., [members] should increase their Temple dues even at the expense of cutting their Aurora Jewish Welfare Fund contributions”. Probably expressing respect for Puklin’s suggestion, President Goldsmith then called for the budget committee to meet and determine the possibility of a dues increase.

Another recurring subject during our history was that of attendance at Friday night services. Discussion on this subject was followed by referral of the subject to a committee whose members would call members on Fridays to attend services. Finally, the board voted to cease selling liquor at Temple affairs because we had no license and we did not carry dram shop insurance.

In the Spring of 1950 the prospect of a nursery school was discussed. The barriers to its establishment were the costs of equipment and the salary, at minimum, of $2000 for a teacher for a five day week, with the expectation of the addition of a second teacher shortly thereafter. In this post-war baby boom period the board “looked with favor upon having a Jewish nursery school here”. However no action was taken at this time. A month later the Board minutes report that “out of deference to Mrs. Shirley Goldman, she was allowed to speak in behalf of the proposed sponsored Temple Nursery”. Mrs. Goldman outlined the plans for the nursery and indicated that 13 were ready to be enrolled. The School would employ a teacher at $3000 per year and an initial equipment expenditure of $500 was required. The teacher’s salary would come out of tuition payments and the original five person committee planning the school would underwrite her salary if it was necessary to close if it turned out not to be self-sustaining during the first year of operation. The proposal was approved by the Board. While initially successful, not long thereafter the project was dropped because of operating problems. Over the decades to follow the nursery/pre-school concept was revived several times for varying periods of time.

Also, at this May 25th meeting the board agreed to “rehire Rabbi Troy at his same salary, $7500 for a one year term.” The Rabbi responded that he would not stay unless he was increased to $8000 and at its next meeting the Board approved his request.

The meeting ended with a report by the Budget Committee recommending an increase in dues. As had been the approach in the recent past, the list of Temple Board members was read to the Board with the Committee’s recommendations on what each member should or should not be raised. The committee report was accepted and the members were to be contacted accordingly. Minutes of the following month’s meeting reported that “there was opposition within the community”. It was then decided to send a letter to the entire general community requesting an increase in their dues. (Apparently this was not a popular move as a second letter was sent to members five months later under the signature of the newly elected president.)

Temple membership was expanding and the baby boom was beginning to overload the religious school (which essentially had only two classrooms). Consequently, in June 1950, a Chicago architect was called in to survey the Temple building “with the purpose in mind of giving a detailed review of its shortcomings”. The architect concluded that “the present building was poorly built by a man who knew nothing of Temple building problems and facilities actually needed within a Temple”. The report included the following recommendations: the roof is in bad condition and the parapet walls should be removed and a new overhanging roof with copper gutters should replace it; to accommodate the need for educational space an addition composed of six classrooms should be built by constructing two wings, two stories in height, off the rear wall of the building. The architect was instructed to draw preliminary plans and report back to the Board.

In the fall of 1950 Morris Bender assumed the presidency. The topic of the repair and expansion of the building was high on the agenda. A Remodeling Building Committee was formed to deal with the architect and various bidders. They soon discovered that bids submitted were out of line and that some local contractors refused to bid. In June of 1951 a cost plus contract was negotiated with a local contractor for building repairs only. (The repairs were completed a year later at a cost of $6320.) A few months later the minutes suggest that the recommended additions for the six religious school classrooms had been dropped and a new approach, the purchase of a house or property adjacent to the Temple, was being investigated. The pressures on the religious school must have been heavy, given the fact that enrollment in grades 1– 6 totaled 77 children, with over 70% in the first three grades, and there were basically 2 classrooms available.

Emeritus president, Zalmon Goldsmith reported on the status of negotiations with the Lincoln Highway Cemetery Association regarding the establishment of a Jewish section. The association was willing to supply lots “enough for 100 years”. By June of 1951 it was reported that a checking account in the name of B’nai Israel Cemetery had been opened and several months later members at a special general meeting of the congregation voted in favor of the cemetery. The cemetery was formally dedicated on August 26, 1951, 28 years after the community’s need for it was mentioned at the first meeting of the newly chartered Young Men’s Hebrew Association in 1923.

Rabbi Troy resigned in the spring of 1951. In a letter addressed to President Bender he stated that he “desired to locate in the East, closer to my family”. The resignation was accepted and the President was directed to acknowledge it in a letter to Rabbi Troy. A committee was appointed to “arrange for a suitable farewell party and gift for Rabbi and Mrs. Troy’. (The party was held the following August.)

Following this action the minutes of the Board indicate a disagreement between the Chairman of the Board of Education, Zalmon Goldsmith, and the Temple Board members. Apparently feeling that there was a lack of confidence in the Board of Education’s ability to conduct a search, Goldsmith resigned as its chairman. The minutes then state that “the chairmanless Board of Education will be instructed to write letters seeking to engage a Rabbi”. {Note that the Temple Board of Education was then, and for many decades thereafter, the designated agency with responsibility to conduct a rabbi search and to monitor the performance of the incumbent rabbi.) Sidney Podolsky was appointed chair of the Board of Education and the search began. Within a few months several candidates had been identified. Also, several members of the Board of Directors suggested that former rabbi, Emmanuel Green, who had been very popular during his 1935 to 1942 term, be contacted as a potential candidate. During the following months several candidates were identified and interviewed and on August 28, 1951 (the same day the farewell for Rabbi Troy and his wife was held), in a special congregation meeting, Rabbi Morris D. Margolis, previously serving a congregation in Ottawa, Canada, was chosen as the new rabbi for a one year contract at an annual salary of $8,000. Rabbi Margolis was introduced to the board at its September 25, 1951 meeting. The minutes state that “Rabbi Margolis outlined his plan of Jewish Education, which was definitely sound”. The Board voted to allow expenditures up to $372 to redecorate the Rabbi’s apartment, evidently previously occupied by Rabbi Troy and his wife, and a committee was formed “to seek a suitable residence for the Rabbi”. Finally, at this meeting the ever-present butcher shop problems were addressed and a committee was formed to again seek a new butcher.

The proposed budget for the fiscal year beginning September 1, 1951 called for total income of $15,500 and total expense of $22,886, for a deficit of $7,381. As was the custom this deficit was to be overcome through contributions from the Aurora Jewish Welfare Fund and from fund-raising activities of the Sisterhood under the fund raising umbrella of “The 25th Anniversary Project”, celebrating the 25th anniversary of the dedication of the Lincoln Avenue building.

At the October, 1951 board meeting Morris Bender was re-elected President. At the first meeting of his second term the board addressed the issue of a permanent residence for the Rabbi instead of rented apartments that had been made available in recent years. At this meeting Rabbi Margolis “made an impassioned plea to get his housing with dispatch” because the lack of space and “the burden of the terrific rental is working a hardship on him and his family”. In response the board voted to purchase a home for the Rabbi for the approximate sum of $16,000, with a mortgage not to exceed $10,000 and that the Rabbi pay a sum of $100 per month rent while providing his own utilities. Within the following month a house located on North Fourth Street, on the East Side of Aurora, was purchased for $16,100.

Sidney Podolsky was elected president in 1952 and held the office for four years, capping a distinguished record of service that was to continue for several decades to come.

During the tenure of Rabbi Margolis the Temple membership continued to increase. Membership stood at 124 in 1954 when Rabbi Margolis stepped down and Rabbi David Silverman assumed the pulpit. Silverman’s salary of $8,000 matched that of his predecessor. (In a two-year renewal of his contract in l956 Silverman’s annual salary was increased to $10,000.)

The 1954-55 Temple budget was set at $28,521, with expenses exceeding income by nearly $7,000. As was the custom, the deficit was expected to be covered by Sisterhood fund-raising and the Aurora Jewish Welfare Fund.

The campaign for a new building

In 1956, a “New Temple Building Survey Committee” was formed under the chairmanship of Arthur Puklin in response to the continuing growth in membership and the perceived inadequacy of the Lincoln Avenue building. Moreover, a large segment of the Aurora Jewish population had moved from Aurora’s East Side to its West Side and the Lincoln Avenue site was considered less attractive a destination for members. Finally, to further fuel the fire, an offer was made to the Temple by a group of Chicago industrialists to give us a 3-1/2 acre plot in Fordon Park, located in then far-west Aurora. This site would be free of cost if construction would begin within approximately two years after the agreement to transfer the property.

In a report addressed to president, Lester H. Kaufmann, who had succeeded Sidney Podolsky in 1956, Puklin outlined the results of a committee meeting held on June 13, 1956. The committee recommended the following:

  1. The present Temple Building is inadequate and a Building Fund Committee should be immediately organized to conduct a campaign for pledges to a building fund, payable within a three year period.
  2. The [Rabbi] residence property located at North Fourth Street should be sold immediately and proceeds from such sale be deposited in the new Building Fund.
  3. The approval of the new building plan, the date and opening of a building fund campaign, and a gift offer of land located in the proposed shopping center on the Fordon property located on Galena Boulevard west of Edgelawn Avenue, should be submitted to a vote of the members at a general membership meeting to be called as early as possible.
  4. The appointment of a committee to investigate the possibility of a sale of the present Temple Building and the price obtainable. In the event of a sale the proceeds are to be used toward the payment of the cost of construction of a new building.

At a special congregational meeting the membership endorsed these recommendations. Perhaps as a harbinger of things to come the Temple financial statement for the fiscal year ending August 31, 1957, showed an ending positive balance of $245 and the “New Temple Building Fund” already had a balance of $4,000.

Meanwhile, while Rabbi Silverman’s tenure in the pulpit was generally favorably regarded, correspondence between the Board of Education, the unit responsible for overseeing the Rabbi’s performance, and Rabbi Silverman reflect a degree of irritation between the two. In a January 24, 1957 letter, Board of Education Chairman Zalmon Goldsmith, who had returned to the position from which he had resigned a few years before, wrote the following to Silverman:

“The Board of Education reviewed with surprise and disapproval the activities of its Rabbi with reference to his considering a new pulpit during the term of his existing contract”.

A written clarification from the Rabbi as to his intentions was requested and five days later the Rabbi responded as follows:

“…I state unequivocally that I fully intend to maintain the terms of the oral commitment made by me to the Board of Education, and through them to the members of the Young Men’s Hebrew Association of Aurora.

“The above statement is not to be taken as a limitation of my right to accept invitations to speak before organizations, temples, and associations whose purpose I deem worthy and who might have something to gain from any message that I might bring them.”

Approximately one year later at a special meeting of the Board of Education on February 5, 1958, Rabbi Silverman stated that he would not “stand as a Rabbinic candidate for re-election to the pulpit.”

A search for a new rabbi was begun and later in the year Rabbi Max Raphael Wasser was chosen just as the campaign to raise funds and build a Temple building began in earnest a year later. August 30, 1959, a ground-breaking ceremony set the stage for the building we know today.