Although a synagogue structure is not necessary for Jewish prayer, the building of a synagogue represents the creation of a center for both worship and community. In a synagogue, Jews join together not only to pray, but to study, socialize, educate their children, and to care for the needs of their own members as well as the larger community. There were once thirteen synagogues in Hartford, CT. There are no longer any active congregations remaining in the city, although a number of the buildings are still in existence. Some are abandoned and have fallen into disrepair, and others have been repurposed, often as churches. This web exhibit utilizes the archive of the Jewish Historical Society of Greater Hartford to offer images and information on the synagogues that once existed in Hartford.
Among the groups meeting at the Pleasant Street Talmud Torah for worship in 1919, was a small group of Orthodox immigrants who decided to organize a Conservative synagogue, B'nai Israel. Within a year the name was changed to The Emanuel Synagogue, generally called "The Emanuel." Services were initially led by Rabbi Leon Spitz, on leave as an Army chaplain. Within months of officially joining the Conservative movement, B'nai Israel hired its first permanent Rabbi, Abraham Nowak.
The quotes excerpted below are those from the original advertisement announcing the founding of B'nai Israel in the Hartford City Directory of 1919:
What Hartford Jews Always Wanted
For a number of years past a group of Hartford Jewish men have been evincing a deep interest in a movement to found a Jewish Modern Synagogue, a house of worship in which the services are to be conducted in accordance with the spirit of traditional Judaism in simple and dignified and reverent manner, with Hebrew as the basic language of prayer both in Hebrew and English, the sermon in English, congregational singing and the social hour, etc. in line with the modern tendencies of American Judaism.
Policy and Scope
The B'nai Israel will serve primarily as the religious center of the modern American Jewish elements in the orthodox community. It will aim to respond to the Jewish spritual wants of the entire family and will seek to bring all the members of the family within its sphere of influence.
Join Hands With Us?
The Congregation B'nai Israel directs its appeal to the American elements in the community. It is essentially a Young People's Family movement. It is a modern and democratic movement. It keeps an open door for all Jewish men and women who are sincerely interested in the purposes of the Synagogue. The Organization committee invites each and all of you to join as charter members on a basis of complete equality with equal privileges and assessments. We want you with us now at the very inception of the Synagogue.