Temple Beth Israel: Our Legacy Of 150 Years
Much of this narrative is the result of the efforts of Rabbi Newton J. Friedman, who compiled the history of Temple Beth Israel’s first 100 years while preparing a doctoral thesis. His information came from temple minutes, newspaper accounts, his personal interaction with congregants as well as other documents. Later information came from temple minutes and the temple newsletter, The Dome and other accounts of temple activities. Most of this later information as compiled and edited by temple members Ann and Phil Dodson. Temple member Richard Harris supervised the entire project.
In 1859, there were only 33 states in the union - 33 stars on our flag. James Buchanan was president, Abraham Lincoln, a Republican, and Stephen A. Douglas, a Democrat, were campaigning for their parties in an attempt to win control of the Illinois Legislature in a series of debates in which the key issue was slavery. John Brown conducted a raid on Harper’s Ferry, VA., and was captured by U.S. Marines under Col. Robert E. Lee. Brown was hanged by civil authorities on Dec. 2 of that years. The first transatlantic cable just had been completed. Victoria was queen of England. Minstrel Dan Emmett composed the song “Dixie.” And Temple Beth Israel was born.
In the beginning, 11 men came together in a house on Cherry Street near Third Street. A brown leather record book, worn by 150 years of time, tells how Temple Beth Israel was created. On the first page of this Minute Book, in the script and spelling of the day, is written:
“An informal meeting of several Israelites of Macon was held at the home of E. Brown, Esq. on Sunday, October 30, 1859.
“Present were E. Einstein, R. Einstein, E. Isaacs, E. Brown, H. Goodman, M. Landauer. S. Landauer, I. Weill, E. Feuchtwanger, I. Hershfield, A. Dessau.
“E. Isaacs was called to the chair and A. Dessau was requested to act as secretary.
“The chairman explained the object of the this meeting to be to form if possible a congregation…”
One month after James Oglethorpe settled his English colonists at Savannah in 1733, Jews had landed in Georgia. They were 42 strong, representing 20 families, Portuguese and other European refugees. They brought with them a Torah with two cloaks. Hebrew prayer books, A Chanukah menorah and other religious.
To Macon, founded in 1823, the earliest Jews came from Germany and France, escaping from the revolutions then sweeping Europe. Though the living of that time left little record, the dead speak through tombstones on the old Hebrew Cemetery on Rose Hill, as far back as 1844. (This burial ground was the first piece of communal property owned by the Jewish community and was maintained by a voluntary group until consolidated with the congregation in 1863.)
One hundred a fifty years ago Macon numbered 10,00 souls, of whom 40 percent were slaves. Ladies in hoop-skirts tripped along the columned porticoes of College Street mansions; gentlemen tipped high beaver hats from passing carriages; on the Ocmulgee River, barrages piled with bales of cotton floated while riverboats churned the muddy waters; wood-burning trains puffed their way to nearby towns.
One hundred and fifty years ago prosperous Macon boasted a volunteer fire department, gas street lights, express telegraph offices, a race track and cockfighting pit. There was a college for women and five churches of assorted denominations. Now there was to be a Jewish congregation.
One hundred and fifty years ago “The Eleven” met and appointed a committee to call together the “Israelitish community.” A week later, at the home of Elias Einstein, on the corner of Pine and First streets, 28 men bound themselves to maintain and support a permanent congregation to be known as the House of Israel, Kahal Kodesh Beth Israel. Annual dues would be $50 per member “if he have an open business and married;” $25 “if he be a daily laborer or celery;” $12 for single men. The Minhag (ritual) would be German Orthodox, with lectures in English and German.
Mr. Einstein was elected first president and appointed a committee to prepare a constitution. This was adopted on Dec. 4, 1859, and can still be read in the original Minute Book, written in Mr. Dessau precise English interspersed with Hebrew. Its preamble stated its purpose: “To perpetuate Judaism and uphold the belief in and worship of one God.” The officers listed were a parnass (president), four trustees, a gabai (treasurer), and secretary. Three years later a revision substitued the English words, which suggest that “Reform” was making itself felt.
On Dec. 14, 1859, the Georgia Legislature grantee the new congregation a charter.
The next step was to secure a religious leader. In that there were only nine ordained, officiating rabbis in all of America, it was difficult. Advertisements were placed in Jewish publications for a combined hazan-shochet-teacher. Shortly afterward, the Rev. H. Loewenthal, a London native who was living in New Haven, Conn., was hired and installed with a salary of $700 annually.
The first synagogue is described in the minutes as “a room in Cherry St. over Horn’s Confectionery, and which we think a desirable and central location. The size of the room is 50 feet in length by 28 feet in the width, with gas already put in...the rent of the room will be 100 annul, to commence on the 1st January 1860.”
Carpenter work by a member took $100; a black youth painted a whitewashed the interior for $10, and another $60 covered gas chandeliers and pipes, When a Torah was placed upon the Ark, the Israelitish community had its synagogue. The rev. Mr. Loewenthal consecrated the room for public worship “in the presence of a numerous and highly respectable audience consisting of both Christians and Israelites.” The book of ceremonies was printed in Hebrew and English.
Before his year had terminated, the rabbi buried his wife in Rose Hill and returned to England. He was succeeded by E. Herzman, and he, in turn, by Dr. L.Z. Sternheimer, who insisted on serving as mohel and well as hazan.
Now the Civil War was raging, calling Maconites of all faiths to serve the south. When the German Artillery Company was organized in Macon by American citizens of German birth, many young sons of Congregation Beth Israel drilled regularly. The battery included Private B. Nordlinger, who had taken over the post of hazan at $25 a years when Mr. Sternheimer moved to Columbus. Within a year the latter begged to be reinstated in the Macon pulpit. In spite of his promise to be “prompt and faithful,” the Minutes book of March 19, 1865 relates that he was “grossly neglecting the duties of his office,” and he was discharged.
The war was over. Temple dues, which had been in Confederate money (with ladies’ seats costing half the price of men’s seats), were readjusted at the rate of 20 Confederate dollars to one federal dollar.
The city and congregation struggled through the hardships of Reconstruction. By 1866 business conditions began to improve. Twenty new members were added to the temple’s roster. This same year congregants focused attention on the education of their children. They hired the Rev. Mr. Davidson to teach day school in addition to his duties as hazan and shochet, even providing him with a house This venture was short lived; the teacher was dismissed and parents sent their young to the public schools, with supplementary Jewish education.
By now the Rev. I. Sanger had begun a ministry at the temple that was to last for 18 years, excepting 1878, when I. Benson as the incumbent. Rabbi Sanger placed great emphasis on education. The year 1868 is an import one in temple history. It marks the real beginning of our religious school. A schoolroom was rented. Curriculum was multilingual with Hebrew, German and English. For the first time the women of the congregation where mentioned in the Minute Book as being asked to prepare a “pic-nic” for the children. That year, too, saw the establishment of a regular meeting of the temple board. It saw the merging of the old Hebrew Benevolent Society with Temple Beth Israel, thus uniting the Jews of Macon.
It too, saw a dream begin to come true. No doubt the congregation who prayed above the candy shop had longed during the entire nine years for the day they would have a home of their own, dedicated solely to the worship of God. Now a lot was purchased for $500, and at its December meeting the the jubilant board subscribed $210 toward the new building. Money was hard to come by in those “carpet-bagging” days. Members pledged up to $50 each; friends from as far away as New York added to the fund, and soon the sanctuary was under construction.
The basement as finished in time for Passover services in April, 1874. In the autumn the building, complete with minaret-like tower and organ (costing $250 of less) was dedicated. The original cornerstone is mounted in the foyer of the present temple.
The young congregation had even been groping to find its form of worship. It is told that in 1869 a member had moved the first ritual reform, suggesting that Minhag Temple Emanu-el of New York, be introduced, but this motion failed. In 1872. The congregation considered but did not adopt the Minhag Jastrow, a conservative ritual. Two year later, the motion to affiliate with the newly formed Union of American Hebrew Congregations also failed, although the influence of Isaac Mayer Wise was already being felt in Macon by the Jews of Beth Israel. The year before, Rabbi Wise founded the Hebrew Union College to train rabbis to conduct services in the language of the new land.
Macon Jews, now calling their rabbi “minister,” were readily finding a place in their life of the community. The years brought an ever increasing degree of service and distinction in various areas of activity, development and progress. Some helped establish and equip the Macon Hospital, later to become the Medical Center of Central Georgia; other served on board of trade that created municipal ownership of the water system, paved the streets, and installed sewers. As far back as 1884 they served on successive city councils, became charter members and officers of civic clubs, leaders in art and music, active on both college campuses (Mercer University and Wesleyan college) in politics and social service. Temple wives sat on the board of Macon’s first organized charity, the non-denominational King’s Daughters.
The temple’s initial philanthropy to its own was in response to an appeal from the suffering Israelites in Eastern Europe. Financial aid was followed several years later by the appointment of a Refugee committee that helped make provision in Macon for these refugee Jews from Poland and Russia.
As time went on, membership and attendance responsibilities increased. In 1879 Rose Hill could hold no more graves. Inscribed in bold purple ink, a page in the old Minute Book “is dedicated to Brother William Wolff as a memento honoris...of his liberal and munificent gift, the new burial ground to be known hereafter as the William Wolff Cemetery.” The first recorded major gift of the congregation still bears its donor’s name and has become the nucleus of today’s expanded cemetery.
Although the next 15 years witnessed extension of our congregants’ activities in the economic political and civic life of the community, the members were still beset with the problems of ritual and type of leaders. As early as 1844 the congregation corresponded with Dr. Wise, who was training students in Cincinnati to be lecturers rather than hazans. A letter from Beth Israel was sent upon the first graduation, a class of four, but no one was forthcoming. In 1886, the local group elected Rabbi Moses Jacobson, then was withdrawal. However, the rabbi and a members were sent as a first delegates to the convention of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations, held that year in Pittsburgh. Ironically, two years later, because of finances, our congregation resigned from the Union. For a period there was no rabbi, no president, or other officers, no annual meeting In 1890, the congregation, numbering 74 members, was reorganized under the leadership of Joseph Dannenberg.
It was in this climate that the fledgling rabbi, Isaac E. Marcuson of Cincinnati, freshly graduated from Hebrew Union College, came to Beth Israel in 1894. Thus began a ministry that lasted until his death in 1952, interrupted in 1903 for a period of 16 years.
Under his guidance the liberal new reforms were embraced. First came removal of the rabbi’s hat during services, then the adoption of the Union Prayer Book, and finally, reaffiliation with the Union.
Immediately the young rabbi was recognized and accepted by the entire community. He served as civilian chaplain for Spanish-American war wounded soldiers encamped here; he was placed on the board to save the Macon Library. He went on to organize a Boy Scout troop; served the boy Scout Council for many years; headed the Organized Service, pioneering county welfare agency; was chairman of the Macon Chapter of the American Red Cross; presided over the social Workers’ Club as well and District Grand Lodge No. 5 of B’nai Brith. His most satisfying experience, he often said, was the regularly monthly visit he instituted to the state hospital at Milledgeville, a practice continued by many of his successors.
Nor were his interests confined to the local scene, for through his 33 years a secretary of the Central Conference of American rabbis his name became known and revered throughout Reform Jewry. For some 30 years he edited the conference yearbook and collaborated on the revision of the Prayer book. In appreciation of his wealth of contributions he as given many honors, including a doctorate from Hebrew Union College.
Four years after Dr. Marcuson came to Beth Israel, his first pulpit, a special meeting of the congregation was called. Across from the sanctuary on Poplar Street, a farmer’s market had grown up. Wagons loaded with produce converged there; the noise and clutter, especially on the Sabbath, were becoming undurable. With watermelon rinds on the temple steps, it was deemed necessary to move, A lot was purchased on the corner of Spring and Cherry streets, and on June 14th, 1902, a large congregation attended final Sabbath services in the old building, which was subsequent razed.
Until their new religious home as ready, jew worshiped at the first Baptist church, whose congregation had enjoyed Beth Israel hospitality when its church house burned in 1883. The pastor of First Baptist, the Rev. J. L. White; Judge Max Meyerhardt, the grand-master of the Georgia Grand Lodge of masons, and Rabbi Marcuson officiated at the laying of the cornerstone on Oct. 30, 1901. At this time Gustav Bernd Jr., was president of the congregation, holding that office for 20 years and never missing a meeting for 30 years. Inscribed on the cornerstone are the names of the building Committee: G. Bernd Jr., chairman, Sam Altmayer, Jos. Block, A. Block, J.H. Hertz, E.A. Waxelbaum and Morris Harris.
First Services were held in the annex at the new location on Sunday, April 27, 1902, marking the closing of Passover. The temple, its dome crowned by the all-seeing eye of God, its perpetual light aglow, was happily initiated by a wedding. One June 4th pews were installed at three in the afternoon; at five Theresa-Hyman was married to Alex Wachtel.
Six days later, on the eve of Shavuot, the sanctuary was informally dedicated, with scripture reading by a visiting rabbi, Julian Morgenstern, who had been ordained at Hebrew Union College the previous week. The next day the first class was confirmed; Flora Bernd, Bertha Harris, Harry Mount, Minette Blum, Milton Lesser, Myron Mussbaum and Palmyre Sommer (Rabbi Morgenstern become president of HUC; he and Rabbi Marcuson married sister Helen and rose Thorner, daughters of the congregation (Morgenstern returned t make his home in Macon during Temple Beth Israel’s centennial year.)
At the formal consecration services on September 19, members purchased seats for the High Holy Days. Rabbi Marcuson was elected to serve indefinitely. The following year, however, he was compelled to resign for health reasons. Rabbi Louis Witt was chosen to succeed him, and was replaced to years latter by Rabbi Harry Weiss, of Butte, Montana.
Rabbi Weiss was greatly interested in children, having quite a few of his own. Warm and lovable, he developed the largest Sabbath School attendance in the temple's first 50 years. Sliding walls had to be installed in the vestry to provide extra classrooms. The semi-centennial was celebrated during the Weiss tenure in 1909.
About this time bequest to the temple began. When finances languished, the Temple guild (later became the Sisterhood) and the Young Ladies Aid made substantial contributions, as they had done since 1897. From 1917 the women functioned under the banner of “sisterhood” as the strong right arm of the congregation. Through efforts of their own they have assisted in procuring a variety of improvements, from table and cloths to electrical appliances and a furnace, from Sunday School equipment and sanctuary carpet to the brand new organ. In later days, they oversaw and equipped the temple’s kitchen with the necessary appliances.
Through WWI Rabbi Weiss conducted services at Camp Wheeler, and the congregation provided a temple home and hospitality. Many of the young men served in the armed forces; at the height of WWI a star-studded service flag was dedicated in their honor.
The year after the Armistice, Rabbi Marcuson returned to Beth Israel. Within a month, the president of the congregation, Bustav Bernd, died. His passing was mourned by the whole community; he was eulogized by the press and by resolution of the congregation. A new annex to the temple, postponed because of war shortages, was built and dedicated in his honor in 1919. Now there were Sunday school rooms combined with an auditorium, for community activities. Even the Purim Ball, sponsored by the Sisterhood, was moved there from the Progress club.
Beth Israel Community Relations Committee now was formed to deal with problems of all Macon’s Jews. the next year, orthodox Sherah Israel began building a new synagogue, in which membership in the congregation was granted automatically upon confirmation.
Our congregation participated in the Golden Jubilee of the Union held in 1923 and sent its rabbi and president to New York. At the HUC Golden Jubilee, our rabbi was an invited speaker and was elected to its board.
The year 1924 ushered in a new temple group, the Brotherhood, which functioned briefly. It was revived in 1954. Another first was the provision of perpetual care of cemetery lots.
The financial crash of 1929 depleted the treasury but filled the pews. New members continued to join our ranks. The religious School flourished. As the Depression continued, members were forced to drop out, but Sisterhood and the council of Jewish Women helped to keep the temple solvent. By 1933 it was able even to send a contribution to a California temple damaged in an earthquake.
The 75th anniversary celebration of Tempe Beth Israel, held in 1934, was a grand occasion with special music, greetings from Macon’s churches, messages from near and far. Georgia rabbis appeared on the pulpit, including Rabbi George Solomon of Savannah, who also spoke at the semi-centennial. Eli Elkan, president, and Morris Michael, chairman of the celebration, joined the congregation in congratulating Rabbi Marcuson in the fortieth anniversary of this arrival in Macon.
In Hitler's Germany, Jews already were suffering. Our congregation joined peoples of the world in donations for relief and made a place for victims of persecution who found their way to Macon. In 1939 the first United Jewish Appeal campaign was headed by a member of Beth Israel and resulted in raising the then-largest sum for philanthropy by the Jewish community here.
World War II saw the reactivation of Camp Wheeler in Macon, brought an Air force base to Cochran Field and an Air Material Depot to Warner Robins. Again our rabbi was appointed civilian chaplain. Again our men went off to war. Again the sisterhood went into action, (having assumed the civic responsibilities of the new-defunct Council of Jewish women) with temple’s receptions and camp social hours. The entire congregation threw itself into USO, Red Cross, Bundles for Britain and other welfare work. The temple annex became a “home away from home” for thousands of service men and women. Sisterhood Seder outgrew the annex wall and had to be held in the Shrine Mosque.
The sanctuary was filled on Friday nights. At the Holy Days’ service, though members gave their seat and a public address system was installed in the annex, there were many standees. Temple Beth Israel became a model of hospitality and received expressions of appreciation from across the nation.
Spontaneously, members came to the temple to offer prayers on the invasion of Normandy; on V.E. Day and on V.J. Day special services were conducted. At the end of fighting three gold stars shone of bronze plaque.
With the war over, Beth Israel rested form its labors unto the point of apathy. In 1946 the congregation and the Sisterhood took on new life under new leadership. Monthly forums instituted to spark attendance; a monthly bulletin was issued; a PTA for the Religious cool was formed; a Cradle Roll installed. Sisterhood celebrate Rabbi Marcuson’s 75th birthday with its first mother-child luncheon and provided two scholarships for the Southeast Federation of the Temple Youth conclave. On a sound financial basis and renewed energy, the congregation considered enlarging the annex to accommodate the new post-war families.
The 90th Anniversary Celebration held on Dec. 16 1949, featured a religious service in which Georgia rabbis and Dr. Morgenstern again took part. Charles J. Bloch was chairman with A.I. Blum as president. Looking back, Rabbi Marcuson said:
That autumn a building fund campaign was launched to implement the enlargement of the religious school President charles E. Nadler appointed Marvin J. Coddon, Leonard P. Kaplan and Myers O. Sigal to head the drive. With the aid of the rabbi, seven home parlor meeting were held, and nearly every member of the congregation contributed, either direction or through the purchase of memorial rooms in the main hall. Abbott Frank was chairman of the building committee.
This new wing, designed by H.C Rosenberg of Atlanta, was dedicated Dec. 3, 1954, in conjunction with the celebration of the 95th Anniversary of the temple. Following services, a beautiful reception filled to capacity the new Michal M. Kaplan hall and remodeled Bernd hall. The sisterhood established the Isaac E. And Rose T. Marcuson Library and provided kitchen equipment and other furnishings. The Brotherhood, dormant for 20 years, enjoyed monthly supper meetings in the new quarters. Landscaping was begun.
Rabbi Marcuson, however, was not to see the centennial celebration of Temple Beth Israel. The religious leader who had given the greater part of his life to Temple Beth Israel died at his desk in 1952, and the distraught congregation set about to find a new rabbi. In the year’s interim, visiting rabbis, the president of the temple and other members conducted services. On Aug. 28, 1952, Newton J. Friedman, of Cleveland, Ohio, was installed as rabbi. He chose as his first responsibility the building up of the religious school. He also undertook to write a history of the temple and was awarded the degree of doctor of theology in 1955 for his efforts.
The year 1955 brought a revision of the Constitution and By-laws which granted wives the rights to vote and made automatic the inclusion of sisterhood and Brotherhood presidents of the temple board, along with past presidents of the congregation. Mrs. Milton R. Fried was put on the board following miss Estelle Thorner and Mrs. Laurence J. Bernd of earlier years. A children's choir was trained and performed the next year when the Southeast Federation of Temple Sisterhood convened at Beth Israel.
With Rabbi Friedman’s resignation, effective on July 1, 1957, a committee attended the meeting of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations in Toronto, Canada. To look for a suitable Rabbi. Wit the help of the president and vice president of Sisterhood, the first local women to be sent to Biennial, they selected Harold L. Gelfman. Originally from Springfield, Mass., he held a pulpit at that time in Cape Cod. He and his wife, Hilda, were welcomed into the congregation, and all joined in celebrating when he completed his 20th year of ordination. He and his wife directed their efforts toward the Religious School and adult education, institution new school curriculum and a book review group. He was a devoted rabbi and teacher an an active participant in community affairs.
During his tenure Rabbi Gelfman served as president of the Macon Ministerial Association and was president of the Southeastern Conference of American Rabbis. His successor, Rabbi Edward Cohn, served Temple Beth Israel from 1976 to 1978.
Under the leadership of Rabbi Ronald Goldstein, whose tenure fan from 1978 to 1987, and Rabbi Jay Heyman, who was the temple’s spiritual leader from 1987 until 1991, Temple Beth Israel which now numbered about 100 families, moved more deeply into classical Reform Judaism.
The congregation shifted back into a slightly more traditional Reform Judaism when Rabbi Uri Goren a native of Chile, came to Macon 1991-1997. Rabbi Goren believed Temple Beth Israel needed to put more emphasis on Jewish tradition and history,and both child and adult education. He introduced more tradition services, making greater use of Hebrew than rabbis in the recent past.
Rabbi Goren and rabbis who followed him walk a difficult path, with some Beth Israel congregants more at home with classical reform worship service and some congregants preferring a more mainstream traditional service. Our congregations now find elements of both religious approaches in our worship service. Overall, Temple Beth Israel has experienced, definitive shift toward more traditional Judaism, including the return to wearing of kippot and tallitot, by many of Beth Israel’s congregants.
The historic value of Temple Beth Israel was officially recognized when the temple was placed on the national Register of Historic Places as contributing property in the Macon Historic district on Dec. 11, 2006. It is also listed on the Georgia Register of Historic Places in that Georgia uses the same criteria and documenting procedures as the National Register.
For example, two of the rabbis who served Temple Beth Israel come to the congregation following their graduation from Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati, Ohio. They were Rabbi Jeffrey Astrachan, who served the congregation from 1997 until 2000 ( and one of the keynote speakers for Temple Beth Israel’s 150th anniversary celebration on Friday night), and Rabbi Jonathan Siger, who served TBI from 2002 through 2004.
When Rabbi Siger left, there as a period during which Beth Israel did not have a permanent rabbi. The congregation was fortunate to secure the part-time services of Maurice Harris, a Reconstructionist rabbinical student, fondly known as “Rabbi Mo.”
Following Rabbi Mo’s departure, Temple Beth Israel hired season rabbi, Lawrence Schlesinger’s. Rabbi Schlesinger’s last pulpit was Montgomery, Ala., temple. He [was] the current rabbi. A native of Washington, D.C., Rabbi Schlesinger received his B.A. in religion from the George Washington University in 1973. He attended rabbinical studies at the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in new York city where he received his M.A. in Hebrew Literature in 1976 and Rabbinic Ordination in 1978. In 2003, the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion conferred upon him the degree of Doctor of Divinity.
Rabbi Schlesinger was and is still active in Macon community affairs and civic activities. He helped found and organize the Downtown Macon Clergy Association, a coalition of African-American and white clergy. He also serves as a Steering Committee member of the Center for Racial Understanding, the Girl Scouts of Middle Georgia and Booker T. Washington Community Center. In 2008, he campaigned for a won a post of Macon City Council.
A number of philanthropic endowment funds have been established over the years by prominent members of Macon’s Jewish community Three funds - the Reuben Blumberg Fund, the Ruth Oxman Purcell Educational Memorial Fund and the Allan Pulitzer Bashinski Memorial Fund - have been available to the Jewish community and serve various purposes.
The Blumberg Fund was designed to support attendance at any education institution that promotes Jewish learning; the Purcell fund as formed to aid Temple Beth Israel youth needing funds to attend the Camp Coleman, a facility for Reform Jewish youth; and the Bashinksi fund was originally intended to provide scholarships for young Jews to attend Camp Coleman and support SEFTY - Southeast Federation of Temple Youth - now inactive Reform Jewish program for young people.
The Zarks Foundation, named in memory of a family that immigrated to the United States in the 1890’s, moving first to Philadelphia, then to Perry and finally, Macon. The foundation, using funds amassed through a furniture business endeavor, was setup by Leonard Kaplan and C. Brown Edwards. Morris Cohen and Kaplan were named as administrators of the Zarks foundation, A charity that has and continues to be a major benefit to the Jewish efforts of Macon.
The 1990s, and the first decade of 2000, had been productive years. Temple Beth Israel underwent major renovation. In 1992 Beth Israel had a major restoration of the interior and exterior. Alvin Koplin was chairman of the exterior renovation committee, assisted by Walter Dannenberg and Avrom Roobin. Irving Purcell and Letty Kaplan were co-chairs of the interior renovation efforts. Improvements included a new sanctuary chandelier, given in memory of Anne Kaplan by Mary Ann and Robert Kaplan, and a pulpit lectern was donated by fiends of Irma Coddon in her memory. In honor of Alvin and Nora Koplin's 50th wedding anniversary, their children commissioned four spectacular and unique handmade wall hangings, depicting the four season from artist Darrie Schlesinger. A Judaica shop was constructed by Mike Bashuk from a gift by Georgia and Edith Nadler in memory of Freda and Charles Nadler. A black tie dinner dance was held after a re-dedication service on October 17, 1992.
Beth Israel has also restored is stained glass windows in the sanctuary and Bernd Hall. the project was begun by Alvin Koplin, who donated the initial funds. Temple members “adopted” sanctuary or Bernd Hall windows. The success of the project was due to Howard Malmad, who coordinated and oversaw the project from the beginning. The windows had not been subject to such maintenance since they were installed in 1902. The work was done by Forsyth artisans Jim and Celia Henigman, commissioned to remove and restore each window, replacing damaged frames, cleaning the stained glass and replacing missing or broken panes.
From the time of Rabbi Goren’s installation in 1991 an for the next 13 years, Lisa Becker served as cantorial soloist and graced us with her lovely voice for Friday night services, High Holy Day services, B’nai Mitzvot, holiday celebrations, religious school and community activities. Mrs. Becker, who for a period of time was the administrator the temple religious school, is owned tremendous gratitude for her beautiful talents she shared with our community.
Over the years, Temple Beth Israel has recognized members of the community who have served Macon and our congregation. The Good Neighbor award was established in the memory the temple congregants who were best friends, Thelma Kalish and Ann Kaplan. The award -dedicated to people who display the qualities of a good friend and neighbor by contribution to the community with acts of love, charity and compassion was awarded to Joseph Hendricks in 1979; Dorothy Simmons, 1981; Willie P. Thomas, 1982; Marian W. Kaufman, 1983; James and Emily Carter, 1984; Grace Barnes, 1985; Patsy Fried, 1986; William Lacefield, 1987, Helen Smith 1988; Connie Mendez, 1989 and Myrl Trimble, in 1990.
The Keter Shem Tov, (crown of a good name) was awarded to Gus and Marian Kaufman on Oct 28, 2007, and Alvin and Nora Koplin on March 1, 2007. This award recognizes lifelong commitments to community leadership in Macon.
For many years Gus and Marian Kaufman, chronicles of Macon’s Jewish history, gave rose Hill Jewish Cemetery tours, providing a wealth of information about Macon's development from its earliest days to present, and the role Jews played during that time. Gus gave his last “Rose Hill Ramble” Tour in April, 2006 for the religious school children.
Gil and Beverly Held donated 120 “Mishkan T’filah” prayer books. The new prayer book brings the temple’s Reform services in line with Reform services conducted elsewhere, providing a gender-neutral reference to God, noting the accomplishments of biblical female characters.
In 1977, Temple Beth Israel began a join Thanksgiving service with St. Joseph’s Catholic church and Mulberry Street Methodist church, bringing Catholics, Protestants and Jews together for a sacred gathering. Over the years, several other religious organization participated in the Thanksgiving service notably Congregation Sha’arey Israel and High Street Universalist Unitarian church. For several years, Beth Israel joined other downtown congregations in an interfaith Thanksgiving service.
In 2007, it became necessary to replace the Temple’s roof, a $60,000 project. Other recent substantial expenditures include reconstruction work on the temple dome and a portion of Bernd Hall suffered infrastructure damage. Congregant Harvey Zion, long time chair of the House Committee served as general overseer of these projects. He has donated many hours of his time and labor to temple affairs.
In 2017, newly ordained Rabbi Aaron Sataloff joined the Macon community.