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For 150 years Akron’s Temple Israel has brought members of the community together to worship, celebrate milestones and give back to others in the Greater Akron Area.
Temple Israel’s roots go back to the 1800’s, when Jewish families who had relocated to the Akron area began to gather together to educate their children and socialize. On April 2, 1865 the Akron Hebrew Association was formed by 20 men in the community. At this time the city of Akron was in its infancy, having only become a town 40 years earlier in 1825.
In 1871 they brought on their first permanent rabbi, Aaron Suhler. Since then, 12 more rabbis have brought the community together through education, socialization and community outreach. As time passed, the congregation grew, and in 1911, changed its name to Temple Israel. All the while leaders were discussing and debating worship rituals. Temple Israel practices Reform Judaism, which embraces innovation while still preserving traditions. Back in 1871 for example, it was decided that men could remain covered or uncovered and that services would be held on Fridays at 8 p.m.
Temple Israel has made several moves over the years. “They rented rooms in several different places on Howard Street and then moved to High Street, where they bought the former Saint Paul’s Episcopal Church. Then from there, they went to Merriman Road in 1912. And then out to Springside Drive just last fall,” says volunteer archivist Judy Lasher. Currently, Temple Israel is located at 91 Springside Drive in Akron.
Just like when you move from one home to another, things disappear over time. Lasher however has found a few interesting things from Temple Israel’s former homes. “I found the original bills for the temple on Merriman Road that were 100 years old and still in great condition,” says Lasher.
Temple Israel’s past and present combine for the upcoming 150th anniversary celebration, coordinated by Laura Lee Garfinkel. Planning the events surrounding the anniversary has brought to life the history of Temple Israel for Garfinkel. “The most exciting thing about the anniversary is that you go back over the old photographs and notes in the archives and you become proud and thrilled of what has kept this congregation going,” says Garfinkel. She pointed out that when the Temple began, Abraham Lincoln was still president.
This longevity could be attributed to many things, however Garfinkel points to the people. “There is a need to get together, to pray together, to celebrate holidays together, a way of keeping families close – all of which is important," she says.
When they celebrate their 150th anniversary on the weekend of April 17, 18 and 19, both Lasher and Garfinkel say that everyone is welcome. “You don’t have to be Jewish to join in the celebration,” says Lasher. Bringing people together, regardless of their faith has been a big part of Temple Israel’s social action programs over the years. “I think one of the most significant things is watching the social action programs as they relate to the community and furthering interfaith relations. I think those are things that have been very exciting to Temple,” says Lasher.
The anniversary celebration will include and honor rabbis who grew up attending the religious school and whose families were congregation members. Rabbis include Rabbi Allen Bennett, Rabbi David Komerofsky, Rabbi Aaron Koplin, Rabbi Evette Lutman and Rabbi Adrienne Pollock Scott. Rabbi Sigma (Sissy) Coran will be unable to attend the anniversary, but addressed the congregation on March 20. Those attending will also pay tribute to Rabbi Howard Folb. The Rabbis in attendance will assist the current Rabbi, Robert Feinberg with Friday’s worship. For more information about the celebrations, visit www.templeisraelakron.org.
Email them to Molly Gase at email@example.com.