1930 to 1939
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Much of the contents of this history have been taken from our Aurora Jewish Community Centennial Celebration 1904-2004 document. Thanks go the those dedication and work went to compiling this historical record.
Chapter 01: The Beginning 1904-2004
Chapter 02: The 1920's
Chapter 03: The 1930's
The Great Depression
In 1930 the impact of the Great Depression was just beginning to be felt and Temple operations continued to be normal. 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. Rabbi Rubenstein, serving as schochet 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, Arthur Puklin, and his predecessor, Morris Kuhn, were nominated and both declined to serve. Mr. Puklin evidently agreed to continue until the Board could find a willing candidate. Shortly thereafter Morris Kuhn agreed to take the presidency but soon thereafter Dr. Samuel Klein assumed the presidency again.
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 the Cheder 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 S620. 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 Arthur Puklin 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 L.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. Smukier was presented at the Women's Club Building." 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 salar), 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 Harry Borwick 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 $2,000 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.
"One hot summer day Rabbi Green came on a train from New York to interview for ajob, wearing a heavy suit. He went looking for my father, Julius, who was a member of the search committee. My uncle told him my father was at the Fairgrounds pool with his children, and drove him there. The Rabbi, standing on the edge of the pool, had his first interview with my father who was in the water. Finally he asked my father if they rented swim suits. He then changed into a swim suit and continued the interview in the pool. Rabbi Green later considered my father to be his mentor and in 1939 gave a wonderful eulogy at my father's funeral." ~Bella Zidell
According to a Temple history written in 1937, a Reform Temple was founded in Aurora in 1934, the same year that Rabbi Green was selected. Quoting from this document, "Worry fell upon [our] organization [because] a new Reformed Temple was organized at the Leland Hotel [in downtown Aurora ] which served to attract some of the sheep in the flock." Apparently the new Temple did not last very long. No further mention can be found and there are no recollections of this from those who are old enough to remember those days.
The 1935 minutes of the Board were extremely perfunctory, apparently due to the philosophy of the newly elected Temple Secretary, Attorney Sidney Podoisky. 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 $2,000, was raised to $2,200 and, in May of 1936, he received an increase to $2,250 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; Hebrew School 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 $3,120, 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.
"Rabbi Green married us. He was a very stately rabbi, a wonderful man. He wore pince nez glasses and always wore a stiff collar. He was all you would think of as a spiritual leader." ~Irene Goldman
In 1937 the congregation undertook a tenth anniversary celebration of the dedication of the building. An important goal of this event was the raising of funds to pay off the mortgage. This was dramatically accomplished at a mortgage burning ceremony held in the Temple. The ability to successfully raise the funds was primarily due to the generosity of Albert Hirsh, publisher of the Beacon News and chair of the original Temple Building Committee in the 1920s.
"I recall the burning of the mortgage of the old Temple at a meeting in the basement. It was a big event, although it wasn't a large mortgage. It was only about six or seven thousand dollars, but it would be equivalent to $100,000 now. It was paid by Albert Hirsh, who had a bigjob at the Beacon News." ~Mel Goldman
While the local economy was showing signs of improvement, the fate of European Jewry was continuing to deteriorate. The Jewish Community Drive held on Yom Kippur Night in 1937 collected $1,925 to be distributed to "important agencies in Palestine and in the Diaspora.." A letter from the committee, headed by honorary chairman Albert Hirsh, included the following comments:
"The needs of our people have become greater than ever. Eretz Yisroel is teaching us the lesson of endurance and sacrifice. The Jews of Poland are 'standing up 'as did their youth in the universities. In Germany, conditions have become even worse during the past year. Quietly, yet surely, Jews are being squeezed out for all business and employment. The last stroke came with the decree that no Jewish store 'may be located or operated on any Main Street of Germany.' They need our help more than ever!"
Morris 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 within 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 six months. There is some evidence that some financial support was coming from outside the organization. A interesting clue re-1 garding the sources of income to the congregation appears in a 1937-38 financial report which lists total income for the year of $7,633. Of that amount the leading source of income came from dues of $3,474 and the next largest source was listed as "The Community Chest" at $1,120! In earlier years there had been some hints in the records indicating that outside support had come from non-Jewish local public charities. This is the first direct evidence. There is no record of how long this may have continued.
Interviews of a small sample of those who were children and teenagers during the decade indicate that thei recollections of this period of economic distress gener ally are favorable. Small business entrepreneurs in downtown Aurora were able to survive and their children recall happy times and favorable friendships.
"My father had a shoe store on North Broadway in the only three story building between what was then Main and Galena. We lived over the store on the third floor and rented out the second floor. In the 1930s the kosher butcher shop was on New York Street, just east of Broadway. The butcher was Mr. Miller. On Broadway Podoisky's sold furniture and on the same side of the street the Siegel family had a clothing store.Down the street was a little army surplus store, barely bigger than its front door, owned by Morris Bender who moved here with his family from Kewanee in 1935. Farther down the sttreet was Broadway Furniture, run by the Yellin and Whisler families. Leonard Yeiin's dress shop was right next door. On the corner of Main and Broadway was a Walgreen's drug store, managed by Max Gavenman, a member of our Temple. On Fox Street there was Badner's Clothing Store and Smukler's Ladies Dress Shop." ~Gail Newman
The Temple was able to survive the depression. However a brutal world war was looming and for the next six years the community's attention would be riveted to the effects of that conflict..