By Sean Martin, Ph.D., Associate Curator for Jewish History at the Western Reserve Historical Society
May is Jewish American Heritage Month, but here at WRHS we work throughout the year to collect materials related to the Jewish heritage of Northeast Ohio. Thanks to the generosity of local Jewish leaders with a keen sense of history, the Cleveland Jewish Archives were established at WRHS in 1976, with the cooperation of the Jewish Community Federation of Cleveland. Since then, we have worked to help tell the stories of Jewish Cleveland by preserving original materials and making them accessible to the public.
We’re proud now to be able to say that over a hundred photographs from Agudath B’nai Israel, a Jewish congregation in Lorain, are now available online. These photographs, many including past leaders and congregants, were part of the materials donated to WRHS by ABI Trustees in 1983. We were able to put them online because of the initiative and support of Nat Fields and Ron Alpern, and we look forward to continuing to work with them to make even more materials from ABI accessible in the near future.
Agudath B’nai Israel in Lorain was formed in 1925 through the merger of Agudath Achim and Beth Israel, two existing Jewish congregations in Lorain, and a B’nai B’rith group about to establish a third congregation. Agudath B’nai Israel agreed on Conservative services, and met in the Fifteenth Street Synagogue built in 1905 for Agudath Achim. Soon after the merger, attention focused on building a new temple to accommodate the merged congregation. In addition to the main sanctuary, the new building opened in 1932 housed a lodge room for meetings, a gymnasium with a stage, a kosher kitchen, and classrooms, enabling it to serve as a hub for all kinds of social and cultural activities. In the late 1960s the congregation moved. The current building on Meister Road was dedicated in 1969.
The help of many ABI members, past and present, ensured the photographs are well identified, so those connected with the congregation can find friends and relatives and remember the years gone by. WRHS is most grateful to Esther Merves, Sheila Evenchik, and Sue Frankle for the help they provided Ron Alpern in identifying the members of the Sisterhood, Couples Club, youth groups, and other organizations. Thanks also go to Mark Jaffee as well as the ABI Officers and Board of Trustees for their support of this undertaking.
The photographs now online represent the entirety of the photographs that make up Picture Group 295 Agudath B’nai Israel Congregation Photographs, one of the collections in the WRHS Library. But there are many more materials—anniversary books, programs, brochures, and other items—that are part of a larger collection in the library at WRHS (Manuscript 3976 Agudath B’nai Israel Congregation Records). As always, WRHS is interested in collecting more materials as well. If you have items related to ABI, the Jewish community in Lorain, or any other local Jewish story, please contact, Dr. Sean Martin, Associate Curator for Jewish History, at email@example.com.