Historic Synagogues of Hartford-2

Beth Hamedrash Hagodol Synagogue

Beth Hamedrash Hagodol, an Orthodox congregation, was organized in 1905 on Wooster Street in Hartford’s East Side. In 1921, Beth Hamedrash Hagodol merged with Shaarey (Sharah) Torah, and together they built the Garden Street Synagogue. This followed the migration pattern of members of the congregation, who were leaving the crowded East Side for the more prosperous North End. In 1962, the congregation moved again after merging with Ateres Kneset Israel to become the United Synagogue of Greater Hartford in a new facility at 840 North Main Street, West Hartford.

The historic photograph (right) shows the east end of the interior. A wooden rail with quatrefoil frieze between paneled posts separates the main space of the sanctuary from the area of the bimah, lectern, and ark. Traditionally, the reader’s platform or bimah, was located in the center of the room so that the Torah, when read from the lectern on the bima, was surrounded by people. In the typical revised arrangement, as found in Beth Hamedrash Hagodol, the bimah is grouped with the ark for convenience and the Torah is carried up and down the aisles to continue the tradition of being among the people.

The ark, a large stepped cupboard, is elaborately decorated with painted panels of foliate and urn designs and marbleizing. The wall behind the ark is embellished with a mural of the road to heaven and Noah’s Ark. Above is a second wheel window, similar to that on the facade, but with a Magen David in its center. The ark was removed from the building and is now on display at the Jewish Historical Society of Greater Hartford.

  • Date of Construction: 1922
  • Address: 370 Garden Street
  • Nickname: Garden Street Synagogue
  • Architectural Style: Romanesque Revival
  • Architect: Berenson & Moses
  • Branch: Orthodox

B’nai Israel Synagogue

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.

  • Date of Founding: 1919
  • Address: 313 Windsor Avenue
  • Branch: Conservative
  • Background: European

The Emanuel Synagogue

In 1925, The Emanuel Synagogue could no longer accommodate the number of families who wanted to become affiliated, it sold its building on Windsor Street to the Metropolitan A.M.E. Zion Society. In 1926 it purchased a tract of land on Greenfield and Woodland Streets where it erected a new building which was completed in time for the High Holidays of 1927. During the new building’s construction, the community’s Sabbath services were conducted at the Beth Hamedrash Hagodol on Garden Street. Religious school classes were held at Beth Hamedrash Hagodol, at the Zionist Center on Albany Avenue, and at the Northwest Public School.

Emanuel Rabbis and Cantor

In time, as the Jewish population of Hartford continued to move west and northwest to the suburbs, younger members of the congregation advocated for the synagogue to be moved as well. Older members who had worked so hard to establish the old building wanted to remain on Woodland Street. This issue became a major controversy that divided the group. To meet the needs of suburban parents who were increasingly unhappy about driving their children into Hartford for religious school, the congregation began planning for a school and auditorium in West Hartford. In 1956 a new school and auditorium were built at 160 Mohegan Drive in West Hartford. Religious services were held in the old building on Woodland Avenue until 1967 when the building was leased to the Hartford Board of Education. A new sanctuary was dedicated in 1972 on the Mohegan Drive property. This sanctuary was destroyed by arson in 1983 but rebuilt in 1984.

The Emanuel Synagogue stands out for other reasons. In 1949, the congregation hired Cantor Arthur Koret, who became a national figure in Jewish liturgical music. In 1962 The Emanuel was the first Conservative congregation in the nation to alter its constitution to allow the election of women to its Board of Trustees.

  • Date of Construction: 1927
  • Address: 245 Greenfield Street
  • Architectural Style: Art Deco/Colonial Revival
  • Architect: Ebbets & Frid
  • Builders: Porteus & Walker
  • Branch: Conservative
  • Background: European

Beth Sholom Synagogue

The Beth Sholom Synagogue community organized with a merger of the Blue Hills Synagogue and Kahileth Synagogue, and would later merge with Beth Hillel in Hartford in 1969. Services were held at the Children’s Home (the site of Mt. Sinai Hospital) and in the Oakhill School for the Blind on Holcomb Street in Hartford. Milton Levenberg was the synagogue’s first President and Rabbi Lester Harbater was its first spiritual leader (1954).

In 1955, ground was broken for the Beth Sholom Synagogue (pictured above) on the corner of Cornwall and Andover Streets in Hartford. Tragically, Rabbi Harbater died shortly after the synagogue building project commenced. Rabbi Philip Lazowski took over the leadership duties of the synagogue and. in 1957, High Holy Days services were held in the new building.

  • Date of Construction: 1955
  • Address: Cornwall Street
  • Branch: Conservative
  • Background: European

Chevry Lomday Mishnayes

Congregation Chevry Lomday Mishnayes was founded in 1918 by a group of Eastern European and Russian immigrants under the name of “Chevre Mishnayos of Hartford” (roughly translated as Fellowship of the Mishnah). For the first seven years the congregation had no permanent home. In 1925, the congregants built their first shul at 150 Bedford Street. In 1934, the synagogue re-incorporated under the name “Congregation Chevry Lomday Mishnayes” (roughly translated as Fellow Students of the Mishnah). In response to the mass movement of the Jewish population to the northwest part of Hartford and to West Hartford, Chevry Lomday Mishnayes purchased the former Young Israel shul at 191 Westbourne Parkway in 1964. By 1983, attendance declined and the congregation merged with Teferes Israel.

The Chevry Lomday Mishnayes synagogue building is a good example of how synagogue architecture adjusts to the realities of circumstances, a demonstration of the tradition that prayer conducted in the building is what is important, rather than the building itself. Presumably, it was relatively inexpensive and straightforward for the congregation to erect the standard “Yellow Brick” shell that it did, for apartment houses of this character were going up by the dozens in Hartford in the 1920s. Harry H. Beckanstein is one of several architects who designed them, as did Berenson & Moses. But the absence of an architect’s name on the building permit for this structure indicates that possibly a standard building was constructed without the services of an architect.

  • Date of Construction: 1924-1926
  • Address: 148-150 Bedford Street
  • Architectural Style: Neo-Classical Revival
  • Branch: Orthodox
  • Background: European-Russian

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