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Temple B'Nai Israel
Our History

This page is under construction.  Check back frequently for updates.

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.

Contents

Our Bimah

Chapter 01:  The Beginning 1904-2004

Chapter 02: The 1920's

Chapter 03The 1930's

Chapter 04: 

Chapter 05: 

Chapter 06: 

Chapter 07: 

Chapter 08: 

Chapter 03: 

Chapter 03: 

THE HISTORY OF THE AURORA JEWISH COMMUNITY
INTRODUCTION

The one hundredth anniversary of the founding of our congregation is coincident with the 350th anniversary of the coming of the first Jews to America. In 1654 twenty three Jewish refugees landed on the shores of Dutch Colonial New Amsterdam. They were fleeing Brazil and the Inquisition when their French ship was attacked by pirates. They were robbed of all their possessions and they arrived destitute in America. The anti-semitism of governor Peter Stuyvesant was eventually overcome by legal actions, and Jewish settlers were permitted to reside permanently in New Amsterdam.

Similarly the first Jews who arrived in Aurora were leaving their European homes. The first immigrants, as far as we know, came to Aurora from Germany in the middle of the nineteenth century. By the time the next wave of immigration, from Eastern Europe, began at the turn of the century, few of these German Jewish families were left. Those that were here had become successful in their professions but were not particularly religious. It was the families from the second wave that came together in an organized way to pray and to interact socially. This history of the Aurora Jewish Community focuses on this group while it recognizes the valuable assistance and support given by their German Jewish predecessors at key times in the early decades of the twentieth century.

Over the last hundred years there have been several histories of the Temple, which can correctly be called "the Jewish Community" because until perhaps very recently the two have been intertwined. The Temple was the center of the Jewish community in Aurora and its environs. The events that led to the creation of these early histories were usually anniversary celebrations and in the early years were based on the recollections of those who were still young enough to share their memories. The first brief memory tract was published in 1937, the tenth anniversary of the dedication of the Lincoln Avenue Synagogue, the first real building. This was followed in 1940 with a history in connection with the "Bar Mitzvah," the 13th anniversary, of the building. While everyone had to be aware of the 1904 founding year, the benchmark for celebration was chosen to be the 1927 building dedication.

The idea of saving documents in the early days of the congregation may have been considered but it was not implemented until the incorporation of the Young Men's Hebrew Association of Aurora (Y.M.H.A.) in 1923. Because the predecessor organization was not legally established, there was little pressure to generate or retain documents. In 1923, as an incorporated non-profit organization we were required to elect officers, hold board meetings, and maintain minutes. We owe the preservation of the first sixteen years of board minutes to a young man, Norman Israel, who worked in the Temple office in the 1930s. He retrieved the Board of Directors minutes, beginning with the first Board of Directors meeting in 1923, through 1939. From various hand written pages he retyped the documents on archival paper, indicating that he was doing this for future historians.

Norman Israel's work set the stage for the archives we have today. Major credit goes to Edith Katz for her foresight and persistence for the collection and care of Temple documents, artifacts and photos and also for the establishment in the 1980s of the position of Temple Historian, whose role mainly was to collect and store documents of all kinds found in every corner of the building and in the homes of our members. To formalize this effort the Board of Directors in 1999 unanimously adopted this Archive Mission Statement:
 

 

 

 



We wish to thank the group of individuals who were interviewed for this history. Their memories were particularly valuable. It is our plan to produce a separate booklet of these interviews next year.

 

Temple B'nai Israel and its antecedents will be 100 years old in 1904.  To serve the Jewish community it will collect and preserve documents and artifacts that reflect the richness and diversity of the Jewish Community. It will facilitate the discovery and understanding of its history and take a responsible role in the continued preservation of its archives, toward the development of a written history.

The compiler of this history takes full responsibility for omissions or errors of fact.

Our Bimah

 


The cover of this booklet displays a photograph of the Bimah of Temple B’nai Israel. The Aron Hakodesh, the Holy Ark where the torahs are kept, topped by the Eternal Light, is surrounded by an artistic panoply of color. The stained glass immediately surrounding the Holy Ark depicts the Tree of Life figuratively growing around it. This section was specially designed and executed by Conrad Schmitt Studio, Milwaukee, Wisconsin for the sanctuary in the 1970s.

The twelve surrounding stained-glass windows portraying the Twelve Tribes of Israel were executed by Todros Geller, a Chicago artist, for the Lincoln Avenue synagogue building in the late 1920s.

The tribes were named for sons and grandsons of Jacob. Jacob’s first wife, Leah, bore him six sons: Reuven, Simon, Levi, Judah, Issachar, and Zebullun. With the exception of Levi, which became a sacred caste serving the High Priests as the guardians of the Temple in Jerusalem, each was the father of a tribe. Two other tribes, Gad and Asher, were named after sons born to Jacob and Zilpah, Leah’s maidservant and Jacob’s second wife. Two additional tribes, Dan and Naftali, were named after sons born to Bilhah, the maidservant of Rachel, Jacob’s second wife. Two tribes, however, were named after Jacob’s grandsons, Manasseh and Ephraim, whose father was Joseph. Each of the tribes, except for Levi, which was set apart to serve the holy temple, occupied a separate territory.

The windows depicting the Twelve Tribes, in order beginning with the lower left hand corner, are clockwise: Dan, Naftali, Gad, Asher, Menaseh/Ephraim, Benjamin, Reuven, Simon, Levi, Judah, Issachar, and Zebulun.

Geller also executed the stained-glass windows depicting the holidays that are installed horizontally, high in the west wall of the sanctuary, forming a clerestory window. They are installed in sequential order of the time of celebration, right to left. Thus,the first window on the right depicts Rosh Hashanah followed by Yom Kippur, Sukkot, Simha Torah, Hanukkah, Tu B’Shevat, Purim, Pesah, Lag Ba’Omer, Shavuot, and Shabbat.

Todros Geller was born in Ukraine and migrated to Montreal,Canada, in 1906 where he attended art school. He moved to Chicago in 1913 and studied for five years at the Art Institute of Chicago. Beginning in 1925 Geller participated in major national and local exhibitions and he held five one-man shows in the U.S. and Canada His works are represented in permanent collections of the Art Institute of Chicago, Library of Congress, Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, the Whitney Museum of Modern Art in New York, and many other museums. Known as the “dean” of Chicago’s Jewish artists he was a mentor to many, including Aaron Bohrod and Mitchell Siporin. Geller was also a master printmaker who published several books of his graphics. He also taught art at the Jewish People’s Institute in Chicago from 1920 to 1927.Geller died in 1949.

Eternal thanks are due to Sidney Podolsky, an esteemed leader of our community for many decades. When the plans were drafted for the Temple building in the late 1950’s they omitted the inclusion of these windows. Despite the strong opposition of the Building Committee, Podolsky vigorously fought for the inclusion of the windows and had them removed and stored them in the boiler room of the new building until they were installed in the sanctuary when it was completed in 1971.



 

* 2004 Cover photo by Jennifer Moyer, Downtown Development, City of Aurora, Illinois

DESCRIPTION OF THE BIMAH OF TEMPLE B’NAI ISRAEL

Our Bimah Circa 2004*

Our Bimah Circa 1927

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