The beginnings... 1848-1928

Once upon a time, in a shtatel named Fort Wayne, Indiana, in the U.S.A., there were three Jewish congregations.  All three were Orthodox.  The eldest, the Achduth Vesholom Temple, started by German Jews in 1848 ultimately became a Reform congregation, B’nai Israel formed by Russian Jews on October 21, 1884, and B’nai Jacob Synagogue organized by Jews primarily from Poland and Lithuania remained Orthodox.

B’nai Jacob officially became a synagogue on September 29, 1912.  On October 26, 1912 the men voted to build a synagogue on the corner of East Wayne and Monroe streets.

The cost of the lot was $2,800, and the building not less than $10,000  would be of modern architectural design.  It had a ‘mahitzah’, a balcony upstairs, separating the men from the women.  The dedication took place on February 15, 1914, with much publicity.

As membership increased, Rev. Saul Schorr was hired to assist Rev. Mendal Hurwitz who was our first spiritual leader serving as Rabbi, teacher, Mohel, and in general doing whatever else was needed for the members.  He also was the shochet and had a kosher grocery a block from the synagogue.

Shortly Rev. Schorr left, and Rabbi Ginsler was hired, and he established our first Hebrew School, since we had a growing number of children in the congregation.  Rabbi Ginsler was followed by Rev. Schulman, and then by Rev. Waldman.  Each one contributed something new to B’nai Jacob.

On October 12, 1928, Rabbi Herman Price began his duties as spiritual leader.  Innovations included younger people participating in the service, English translations of some of the prayers of the Shabbat service, lots of singing, and a women’s choir.  It was during his reign that the need for expansion was realized and the necessary $50,000 was raised to build the new Hebrew Center onto the rear of the synagogue with its entrance facing Monroe street.

1928 - 1960

During this period, Rabbis weren’t essential for conducting services. Some of our elders had the education and ability to do what was required.  Abe Sposeep read the Torah, Meir Fichman lead services, and Isadore Hassan was the cantor.  Rev Mendel Hurwitz still had the kosher market just a block away, on the corner of Washington and Monroe streets.

In 1933, Rabbi Irving Weingart became the spiritual leader, and for the next twelve years he helped us as a growing congregation.

In 1937 Rabbi Weingart begged B’nai Israel to disband and join B’nai Jacob.  Reluctantly, B’nai Israel did disband with some members joining the synagogue and some joining the Temple.

His duties after the start of WWII included ministering to the needs of the Jewish service men and women who were stationed at Baer Field, where he was chaplain.  

The Sisterhood and Men’s Club hosted weekly Shabbat lunches for the soldiers, and also Sunday dinners, dances, and parties.  Many of the soldiers were invited into our homes, and as would be expected, many of them married our local girls.

Rabbi Joseph Gorfinkel assumed the leadership of B’nai Jacob in 1945. He started the tradition of ‘audience participation’ with singing.  It was during the seven years that he was with us that we needed to move into a better neighborhood, and the land at the corner of Fairfield and Pierce streets was purchased.  The address would be 2340 Fairfield.

Service men were returning home and the prospect of building a new building became a reality.  New Jewish families were moving into town and joining our congregation and our Hebrew School grew to 120 students.

It was during this time that we no longer brought our own prayer book. We had a uniform prayer book, and surprisingly, no one complained. And we became Conservative.

In 1952 newly married Rabbi Seymour Weller became our spiritual leader, moving here with his wife Vera, from New Jersey.  He had great plans for our congregation – this being his first.

He established our first normal Hebrew School that met two days during the week after school, as well as on Sunday mornings.  Students were to attend both Friday night and Saturday morning services at least twice a month.  He made Bar and Bat Mitzvahs mandatory – girls doing Friday night, and boys both Friday night and Saturday morning.  His coaching in their training not only taught them the prayers, but also gave them stage presence and the ability to speak well in front of an audience.

Sunday morning tallit and tefillin breakfasts brought fathers and sons closer together, and he was instrumental in starting a youth group as well as a young adult group.

With our membership growing it was time to use our land on Fairfield Avenue.  A. M. Strauss was the architect, with groundbreaking on July 17, 1954.  The building was completed in early March 1956, and we had the parade of the transferring of the Torahs from the old synagogue to the new.  It was done with great fanfare, and with many visiting rabbis.

It was planned that one of our Bar Mitzvah boys would have his Friday night service in the old building, and his Saturday morning service in the new.  The cornerstone laying was on March 12, 1956, and the formal dedication was another big event with city dignitaries, visiting rabbis, including Rabbi Weller’s father, Vera’s father, and two brothers-in-law (all rabbis), and the Jewish War Veterans Auxiliary Choir performing during the celebration.

With the influx of many new families, we found lots of talent.  We rewrote Broadway shows – ‘Hello, Dolly’ became ‘Hello, Molly’; variety shows created parodies to songs from ‘Guys and Dolls’, ‘South Pacific’, and many more.  And the JWV Auxiliary Choir was kept busy performing at the Bar & Bat Mitzvahs as well as services and congregation dinners.

B’nai Jacob had its own jazz trio – piano, bass, and drums that played for the shows and dances.  And in 1965, the younger generation formed a rock band that won Battle of the Bands contests that finally won them a six week gig at the Club Metrapole in New York City.  From there they could have gone on to Las Vegas, but wisely chose to return to school and avoid going to Vietnam.

1960 - 1991

On the morning of April 16, 1960, our beautiful new synagogue was defiled with swastikas.  It was discovered by a member – a Nazi Holocaust survivor, the numbers tattooed on his arm.  Doors were broken, locks smashed, money stolen, destruction was everywhere.  On that infamous day, the Christian ministers of Fort Wayne donned blue jeans and sweat shirts and tried to scrub the red swastikas that had been spray painted on our desecrated outside brick walls.  This remarkable show of brotherhood was picked up by the Associated Press, United Press, NBC, ABC, CBS, and we made the national news.

In the early 1960’s we again needed to expand.  This time we added a youth lounge, kitchen, and supply room, and a gymnasium/social hall with movable walls to enable use to make the sanctuary larger when needed.

 
After 23 wonderful years, Rabbi Weller moved on.  With the training he had given our students, some of whom were now grown, we were able to continue services, teach, and were able to maintain our balance.  We hired Dr. Itzhak Meiselles, who was from Israel and a professor at IPFW who helped us and stayed for about three years.
 
We were without a rabbi again for about three years when we hired Rabbi Pincus Aloof.  He was not only an excellent rabbi, but had a beautiful voice, was a mohel, a good teacher, and great with our students.  We learned his habit was not to stay any one place more than three years, and he moved on.  He was with us from 1977 through 1980.
 
Being without a rabbi again for a couple years, we hired Rabbi Gideon Goldenholz who spent the first three years of his rabbinate with us from 1981 through 1984. During his tenure he took classes in Chicago earning his masters and doctorate degrees.  He started the K.I.S.S. services on Friday night and Junior Congregation on Shabbat morning.
 
In between rabbis again for the next several years, our capable members could always be depended upon when anyone in our congregation required special services.  David Winnick, Irving Walters, and Izidor Schachter led services.  Larry Goltz and Susie Miller trained students for Bar/Bat Mitzvah.
 
From 1986 to 1989, Rabbi Steven Marcu, who hailed from Chicago, became our spiritual leader.  He received ordination from Hebrew Theological College, and served our congregation faithfully for three years.  He had total recall and could chant every Haftorah from memory.

 

No rabbi again, when suddenly Rabbi Aloof reappeared.  That was 1990 and things started to hum again in the synagogue.  But just as suddenly as he appeared, just as suddenly did he disappear – 10 months later. We found out that he had moved to a farm in Kansas to raise kosher cattle!

 
About this time, the neighborhood around the synagogue was deteriorating and a discussion to sell the building and build elsewhere took place.  After finding a bloody break-in one Saturday morning, we decided the time had come to move.  We sold the building to the Fort Wayne Philharmonic for a sum that became the budget for the new building.

100 years - 1991 to 2012

Until land could be found and a building built, we met at the Scottish Rite Temple on the corner of Berry and Fairfield, and religious school classes were held in homes or in our temporary offices in Sleepy Hollow.  Rabbi Harvey Markowitz was hired in 1991 and was with us until 1997.

While he was here, we found the land on the corner of West Jefferson and Bittersweet Moors Drive in Aboite Township.  Our address would be 7227 Bittersweet Moors Drive.  Felderman Construction Company were our architects as well as our builders with the help of the Amish, and ground breaking was on March 21, 1993.  We moved in on August 13, 1993. Then we bought the house next door as our parish house making it convenient for our rabbis not to have to walk too far.

Our sanctuary became a work of art.  Lee Bleifeld, a nationally known artist and a member of our congregation, built the ark which was commissioned by the Crell family and Holocaust survivors.  It depicts the history of our people from the beginning through the Holocaust, to Israel. Carved in cherry wood, it holds our nine Torahs.

Aniko Fenyes Droegmyer is the artist who worked in glass and metal.  In memory of her parents, who were Holocaust survivors, she created seven panels of stained glass showing the seven days of creation.  And, as you enter the synagogue you will see panels on either side of the double doors that depict the twelve tribes.  On the outside the words are in English, but on the inside they are written in Hebrew.

After moving into our new building, we decided to bend with the times and became egalitarian in 1994.  With that decision we discovered that one of the women in our congregation could read Torah.

We found Rabbi Eddie Fox on the Internet.  He decided to become a cantor at age 50 and received his Smicha – his ordination as a rabbi – when he was 65 years old.  After three years, he moved to Florida to be near his family.

Due to modern science, the computer, and ‘jewishjobs.com’, Rabbi Mitchell Kornspan was found, contacted, and came from Windsor, Ontario, Canada for an interview in late summer of 2004.  Originally from Youngstown, Ohio, he wanted to return to the Midwest, and became our rabbi on December 8, 2004.

Again, our membership grew, our Hebrew School flourished, the congregation was happy and peaceful.  Adult education classes in any subject that might interest you are available.  Shabbat services are also Torah studies, Oneg Shabbats are weekly, as are Saturday morning Kiddush lunches.

We continue our lecture tours throughout our building sharing our teachings with the Gentile world.

We planned our 100th anniversary, the weekend of November 4th, 2012, with many events throughout the year following this great event. It was as grand as the ones we had for our 70th and our 75th.

Tue, November 21 2017 3 Kislev 5778