Monday, February 14, 2011

Amanuensis Monday: A Synagogue is Built in St. Louis - 1880

Amanuensis: A person employed to write what another dictates or to copy what has been written by another.

I continue my project to transcribe family letters, journals, newspaper articles, audiotapes, and other historical artifacts. Not only do the documents contain genealogical information, the words breathe life into kin - some I never met - others I see a time in their life before I knew them. 

This week may be the first week where the item I transcribe mentions no one related to me. However, it is a bit of history important to my family as it concerns a synagogue to which some member of my family has belonged for close to if not more than 100 years.

St. Louis Post-Dispatch: Aug 26, 1880

The Corner-Stone Laid With Impressive Ceremonies This Afternoon

The Most Worshipful Grand Lodge of Free and Accepted Masons of the State of Missouri this afternoon laid the cornerstone of the new temple of the United Hebrew Congregation, located at the corner of Twenty-First and Olive streets. The congregation of this temple formerly held their services in the synagogue on Sixth street, between Locust and St. Charles, but as they increased in numbers the old building became too small to accommodate them. Last year they decided to dispose of the edifice and erect a handsome structure on Olive and Twenty-First streets. The farewell services in the old synagogue were celebrated on April 17th last, when the sermon was preached by Rabbi Messing. The new temple is to be of brick with ornamental stone trimmings and is estimated to cost $[?]5,000. The lodges and societies participating in the ceremonies assembled at Masonic Hall, on Seventh and Market streets, at [?] o'clock this afternoon. They then proceeded in a body to the site on Olive street. A very large number of prominent Hebrew citizens, with ladies, were present. The officers of the congregation also attended. They are: Mr. B. Cohen, President; Mr. M. Spiro, vice-president; Mr. Henry Lyon, treasurer, and Mr. S. Diamant, secretary, and Messrs. M. Werner, R.P. Cohen, D. M. Plant, B. Diamant and S. Landecker, Board of Trustees. The following was the order of exercises: overture, Von Richter: and opening prayer by Dr. Spitz, and an aria from Ernani. The corner stone was then laid with due ceremony. The Rev. John D. Vineil then delivered an address. This was followed by the hymn "Adestes Fideles," and an address by Dr. S. H. Sonneschein. A musical medley, "Chips," after which Dr. Henry Messing closed the ceremonies with prayer. Dr. Messing is the present rabbi of the congregation, having occupied that position since December, 1877.

The United Hebrew congregation was organized on Sunday, October 3, 1841. Abraham Wiegel was the first president and Hiram H. Cohen treasurer. The congregation first met in an old Baptist church on the corner of Fifth and Washington avenue. Afterwards a room was rented, and in 1857 the corner stone of the Sixth street synagogue was laid. It was consecrated in the same year, and served as a temple until the present year. The property was disposed of for $25,000.


1) I said someone in my family has been a member of United Hebrew for close to if not over 100 years. I know my grandmother, Belle "Sissie" Feinstein grew up a member of United Hebrew. She was born in 1914. (She recalled the congregation moving into a new synagogue in the 1920s). Her parents married in 1912, but were not married by the United Hebrew Rabbi of the time. It's unclear when they joined. One of them may have been a member of United Hebrew prior to the marriage.

2) The oldest Jewish congregation West of the Mississippi, United Hebrew dates itself back to 1836 or 1837, when it first formed a minyan. 1841 is when their constitution was adopted. The newspaper article states the building on Sixth Street was consecrated in 1857, though Wikipedia states 1859.

3) It is definitely intriguing that the 1880 cornerstone ceremony included an aria from Verdi's opera, Ernani (based on Victor Hugo's drama, Hernani) and a rendition of the hymn, Adestes Fideles. Not exactly the most Jewish of musical choices. An internet search suggests Rev. John D. Vineil was there representing the Masonic organization.

Two other local synagogues were also represented in the ceremony. Dr. M(oritz) Spitz was the editor of the Jewish newspaper, The Jewish Voice, as well as the Rabbi for B'nai El congregation. Dr. S(olomon) Sonneschein was the Rabbi at Temple Shaare Emeth. [source]

4) According to United Hebrew's history page, originally Orthodox, the synagogue joined the Reform movement in 1878, two years prior to this ceremony, only to leave in 1885. They returned to the Reform movement in 1904.

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