A Short History of
Congregation Ohabai Sholom
Written in 1976 by Fedora S. Frank
Edited by Gwen Moore
On the occasion of our 125th Anniversary
This congregation had its beginnings in the late 1840's when a group of Jewish residents met for religious services at the home of one Isaac Garretson on South Summer Street (5th Avenue). By 1851, the group had grown sufficiently to organize a Benevolent Society and purchase cemetery property. It was in consultation with the renowned American Jewish historian, Dr. Jacob R. Marcus, that the recorded date of the cemetery deed, July, 1851, was established as the birth date of this congregation. In the history of American Jewry, it has been noted that benevolent societies usually predated the establishment of synagogues. The dates on charters do not necessarily indicate the beginning date of a congregation.
In its 125-year existence, this congregation has been known by several names. It began as Khal Kodesh Mogen David and received a charter on March 2, 1854. The first Rabbi was Alexander Iser, who came in 1852. This Rabbi served five years. In the fall of 1857, the Rev. Emanuel Marcusson was engaged. The congregation rented a room on North Market Street (2nd Avenue) and, according to a contemporary account, "fitted it up in handsome style" and built a mikveh (ritual bath).
The Rev. Jonas Heilbon, who served from 1859-1861, established the first Religious School. Before Heilbon's departure in 1861, a division in the congregation culminated in the establishment of a second congregation, which received a charter on March 12, 1860 as Khal Kodesh Ohava Emes. In 1867, these two congregations were reunited, but two of the conditions for the merger were that a new name and a new charter be obtained. This new charter issued to Khal Kodesh Ohabai Sholom on February 21, 1868, stated that the original charter was Orthodox. During the years 1861-1867, the Rabbis who are known to have served the two congregations were: I. Marks (1864), M. Landsberg (1865), M. Meyer (1866) for Mogen David, and Isaac Cohen (1864), David Bernard (1865), M. Roth (1866) for Ohava Emes.
Much of the misinformation about Ohabai Sholom stemmed from the history of an early Nashville Reform congregation, Khal Kodesh B'nai Yeshurum, which existed from 1864 to about 1875...This congregation had several locations during its short existence and it is entirely possible that its location at Douglas Hall on Market Street (2nd Avenue) gave rise to the incorrect statement that it was a forerunner of Ohabai Sholom, which had also occupied Douglas Hall in the early 1870s just prior to its location on Vine Street (7th Avenue). The Rabbis who served B'nai Yeshurum were Rev. Labshinee (1865), David Burgheim (1867), Judah Wechsler (1869). The known Presidents were M. Fishel, Simon Weil, S. Sicles, M. Feldman and Louis Bernheim.
In 1874 the cornerstone for the new Vine Street edifice was laid and in 1876 the building was dedicated. Ohabai Sholom joined the Union of American Hebrew Congregations, dropped its mantle of Orthodoxy and became a proponent of Isaac M. Wise's American Reform Judaism. In 1955, after eighty years on Seventh Avenue, this congregation moved to its present site, 5015 Harding Road, and became known as Congregation Ohabai Sholom -- The Temple.
Rabbis since 1868 have been: J. Kantrovich (1868), David Burgheim (1868-1869), Isidor Kalisch (1872-1875), Alexander Rosenspitz (1876-1878), Julius S. Goldhammer (1879-1886), Isaac Moses (1887-1888), Isidore Lewinthal (1888-1922), Richard M. Stern (1923-1926), Julius Mark (1926-1948; while in the Chaplaincy, congregation served by Byron Rubinstein, Bernard Starkoff, Lester Roubey); Sylvan Schwartzman (1948-1950), William E. Silverman (1950-1960), Randall M. Falk (1960-1986), Stephen Fuchs (1986-1997), Dr. David Davis (1997-1999); Mark Schiftan (1999-present).