Monday, August 29, 2011

Amanuensis Monday: A Historical Look at United Hebrew Synagogue - 1915

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.

I began this project back in February of 2009, and since then, many others have joined in on the meme.  Why do we transcribe?  I provide my three reasons in the linked post.  You may find others.  If you participate, feel free to leave a link to your post in the comments.


This week, I look at an article that appeared in the March 19, 1915 edition of the St. Louis Jewish Voice.  It is a reprint of an article that appeared the prior week in The St. Louis Republic. The article provides both an history of the congregation up to that point, and a description of the then-current synagogue.  My grandmother, Belle (Feinstein) Newmark was born in 1914, and grew up in the congregation.  She remembered moving in the 1920s to the location on Skinker Blvd which now houses the Missouri History Museum Library and Research Center. That's the location I grew up in, and I remember the move in the 1980s to the current location.


In the “Republic” of last Monday, Betty Boyd, well known special newspaper writer, had the following interesting bit of local Jewish History which thinking some of our readers might have overlooked it, we here reproduce; not feeling inclined, however, to endorse its historic authenticity in all its parts.


United Hebrew Temple, at Kingshighway and Von Versen avenue, houses the oldest Jewish congregation in St. Louis, or, for that matter, in the entire Mississippi Valley. Upon the cornerstone of the temple is the date, 1837, when its organization was effected at the home of H.M. Marx, who lived on Locust street between Third and Fourth. A. Wiegel was elected first president of the congregation at that meeting.

First Services Held in Old Frenchtown

Although the congregation was organized in the district then known as “uptown,” the first services were held down in Frenchtown, in a house on Carondelet avenue. For ten years the congregation occupied the Carondelet avenue quarters; in 1814(*) it removed to a brick residence on Fifth street, between Washington avenue and Green street, just south of the present Union market. The first permanent home owned by the society was built on Sixth between Locust and St. Charles. The lot on which the synagogue was built was acquired from Judge W. Beirne for $6240. The building was consecrated in June of 1859 by Rev. D. Raphael of New York. For twenty years the United Hebrew worshiped there, till 1880, when the property was sold most advantageously and a new temple erected on the corner of Twenty-first and Olive streets. Another score of years passed, during which the congregation occupied the Olive street building, which is still standing. Then, conditions changing, it became imperative that a new location be secured. The corner of Von Versen avenue and Kingshighway was selected and there was erected the present temple, which I visited yesterday.

United Hebrew Synagogue is a quaint, low, rambling structure of cut stone. It comprises an auditorium and an institutional building adjoining, with entrances on Von Versen avenue. Were it not for the tabernacle one might very easily fancy himself in an entertainment hall, rather than a house of worship, when one enters the auditorium. The floor inclines noticeably towards the front and the seats are not of the universally accepted pew design, but comfortable opera chairs, all complete with folding seats and wire hat rack beneath. There is little of ornamentation in the temple. To the right of the main entrance is placed a tablet to Samuel Bienestock, who departed this life May 5, 1887, and to the other side is a marble memorial to Rabbi Henry J. Messing, who served the temple faithfully and zealously for thirty-three years from 1878 to 1911. Only one window bears an inscription. It is the large east window at the front of the building, which is dedicated to the memory of Isaac and Hannah Russack.

The only decorations are the handsome prismatic chandeliers, whose thousands of crystalline pendants had doubtless hung of old in the Temple on Olive street. The Sabbath morning services were most interesting. It was the anniversary of the natal day of Rabbi Henry Messing; Mrs. Benjamin Roman and Mrs. Lawrence May of Havana had remembered the anniversary and sent flowers in profusion in commemoration of their old and beloved pastor. The children of the congregation figured most conspicuously in the services. The front pews of the temple were filled with bright boys and girls coming from Sabbath school to attend the morning services of their elders.

Betty Boyd.

(*) This date was likely a typo, either on Betty Boyd’s part, or on the part of The Jewish Voice in reprinting the article. 1847 may have been intended, since that would have been ten years after the 1837 date given prior. 1841 is another possibility, as that is the year given by the congregation today for adopting their first constitution.


1) I found this article while I was searching for the obituary for my second great grandfather, Selig Feinstein.  Selig was Orthodox, and United Hebrew by that time had joined the Reform movement.  My great grandparents Herman Feinstein and Annie Blatt were married by the local Chief Orthodox Rabbi.  I'm not sure whether Herman and Annie joined United Hebrew after their marriage, or whether Annie was a member prior.

2) I have previously transcribed a newspaper article on the cornerstone ceremony for the synagogue built in 1880.

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