Rabbi Isaac Mayer
1809 – 1897
Born: Alsace Lorraine
Served: Congregation Beth Israel
Rabbi Isaac Mayer became the first rabbi of the then Orthodox Congregation Beth Israel in Hartford on April 1, 1856 and served in that capacity for 11 years, until 1867. His obituary in the Meriden Journal described him as a scholarly man with a strong personality. Rabbi Mayer taught Hebrew and was active in the Ararat Lodge of B’nai B’rith, where he was secretary from 1863 to 1867. He was also the author of a German translation of a book of Hebrew proverbs and a widely-circulated Hebrew grammar book that was used for instruction in many institutions throughout country.
During the Civil War, one of Isaac Mayer’s sons, Dr. Nathan Mayer, was a surgeon with the Union forces. He became well known for his professional work at St. Francis Hospital (later, Mt. Sinai Hospital), and as a writer, poet, and music and critic for the Hartford Times for over 40 years.
1868 – 1935
Born: Kovno, Russia
Served: Adas Israel, Agudas Achim, and Beth Hamedrash Hagadol
Rabbi Isaac Hurewitz was born in Kovno, Russia on Oct. 9, 1868, the son of Joseph Dov and Beila Hurewitz, and studied at the Yeshivot of Volozin and Slabotka. In 1892, he received his s’miha(rabbinical ordination) from the world renowned scholar, Yitzhok Elhanan Spector of Kovno. He came to Hartford in 1893 and, in his long ministry of over 40 years, served the following congregations: Adas Israel, Agudas Achim, and Beth Hamedrash Hagodol (Garden Street Synagogue). In 1905, he was the editor of the biweekly, Yiddishe Shtimme (the Jewish Voice), which became a monthly publication in 1908.
A recognized Talmudic scholar, Rabbi Hurewitz was the author of the book Sefer Ha-mitzvot which was published in Jerusalem in 1926. Rabbi Hurewitz was the first Eastern European Orthodox rabbi in Hartford and was instrumental in establishing its Jewish charitable and educational institutions. He was a charter board member of the United Jewish Charities in 1912 and of Mt. Sinai Hospital in 1923.
Hurewitz died Dec. 30, 1935 and was survived by his widow, Chana Hurewitz; sons, Dr. Herman M., Atty. Joseph, Aaron, Jacob (professor at Columbia Univ.), and Samuel M.; and daughters, Bessie Sheketov, Rebecca Feldman, Anna Goldstein, Rae Ganz, Freda Jacobson, and Rose Zelzer. His first wife, Ida Aaronson Hurewitz, died in March 1932.
1863 – 1938
Served: Ados Israel
Cemach Hoffenberg was born in Lithuania in 1863, son of Pesah and Zippa Hoffenberg. He came to the U.S. in 1897, after his ordination. He served for a short time in Springfield, and then was called to Hartford in 1899 to become the rabbi of Ados Israel Synagogue which he served for 39 years.
Rabbi Hoffenberg was a renowned scholar, an authority on the Talmud commentaries and the codes. Before his death he had completed a manuscript, “Commentary on the Talmud”. He was a board member of all the Jewish charitable and educational institutions of Hartford and a charter board member of Mt. Sinai Hospital.
Hoffenberg died on Nov. 28, 1938, and was survived by his widow, Kayle Fishel Hoffenberg; his sons, Atty. Joseph (in the state attorney general’s office), Samuel, Abraham, and Gabriel; and his daughters, Mrs. Max Hollinger (Brooklyn, N.Y.), Mrs. Meyer Goldsmith ( New Britain), and Mrs. Alvin Fien ( Watkins Glen, N.Y.). His widow, Kayle Fishel Hoffenberg, who was active in religious and charitable organizations, died on Feb. 26, 1954 at the age of 80. His first wife, Sarah Zivia Schine Hoffenberg, died in 1896.
Rabbi Abraham Nowak accepted the call from Hartford’s B’nai Israel to be its spiritual leader in 1919. He had previously served as rabbi of Congregation Adath Jeshurun in Louisville, Ky., and Congregation Ohabel Shalom in Boston. While in Boston he was actively involved in the Bureau of Jewish Education and the Federated Jewish Charities.
Rabbi Nowak served B’nai Israel from 1919 to 1922, when he left to assume the pulpit of B’nai Jeshurun in Cleveland. He later went on to become the chaplain of Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City. During his tenure at B’nai Israel, Rabbi Nowak also briefly served as President of the Hartford Zionist District.
Born: Newburgh, NY
Served: The Emanuel Synagogue, 1922-1961
Education: Ohio State University, Columbia University, Jewish Theological Seminary
During his leadership at The Emanuel Synagogue, Rabbi Morris Silverman gained renown as an author and editor of prayer books, many of which are still being used in Conservative synagogues throughout the world. After becoming Rabbi Emeritus in 1961, Rabbi Silverman continued his research, writing and travels, and published the important work, Hartford Jews, 1659-1970, documenting Jewish life in Hartford.
After earning an M.A. in American History from Columbia University, Rabbi Silverman was ordained by the Jewish Theological Seminary of America in 1922. As a student rabbi at a congregation in Washington Heights, New York, Silverman had been highly successful in tripling the size of the congregation, starting a Hebrew school, and moving the congregation into a new home. In 1923, Silverman took over the pulpit of the four-year-old Emanuel congregation and continued to serve it for thirty-eight years, until his retirement in 1961.
In addition to serving his congregation, Rabbi Silverman became well known throughout the entire greater Hartford community for his inter-faith and civil rights support. He was Chairman of the Connecticut State Commission on Civil Rights, a founder and leader of the Hartford Association of Ministers and Rabbis, a member of the Hartford Citizens Committee on Redevelopment, and was honored by several groups for his activities in these areas. In addition to his local work, Rabbi Silverman also served the Conservative movement nationally by editing numerous prayer books and other publications. His Sabbath and Festival Prayer Book became the official siddur of the movement, and his edition of the High Holiday Prayer Book (machzor) is still in common use today. Rabbi Silverman put his degree in history to good use by writing a series of newspaper articles on the history of Hartford Jews that became the basis of his book Hartford Jews 1659-1970.
Rabbi Silverman’s wife, Althea, was also active in the synagogue and community. The many pageant scripts she wrote, her book, The Jewish Home Beautiful, which arose from her Sisterhood programs on holiday and Shabbat entertaining, and her books on Jewish themes for children demonstrated her own love of writing.
The Silvermans’ son Hillel also became a Rabbi. Hillel Silverman’s son, actor Jonathan Silverman, is the grandson of Rabbi Morris and Mrs. Silverman.
1873 – 1936
Born: Bobrisk, Russia
Served: Ateres Israel
In 1905, Rabbi Kalman Rosenbaum became the rabbi of the Austrian Congregation located at 176 Front Street and would later serve as the spiritual leader of Ateres Israel for several years. The son of Laib and Leah Rosenbaum, he was educated in Russia where he received his s’miha (ordination). Rabbi Rosenbaum was a scholar of note and led several groups in the study of Talmud at the synagogue and at his home. He lived in Hartford for 38 years.
His grandson, Rabbi Kalmen M. Rosenbaum, who became Principal of the Hartford Yeshiva in 1956 and who would later attended the Ner Israel Rabbinical College of Baltimore, was his grandson.
Born: Ponwez, Luthuania
Education: Trinity College, Columbia University
Served: The Emanuel Synagogue
The death of Rabbi Leon Spitz evoked not only sympathy for the bereaved and a sense of loss over the departure of a dedicated and loyal servant of God, but also memories of distinguised service which he rendered to Jewish life for more than two-score years . . . (The Jewish Ledger)
Rabbi Leon Spitz was notable for his work in establishing Conservative congregations. He was born in Lithuania in 1891 and came to Hartford in 1904. He was a graduate of Trinity College (1915), had a master’s degree from Columbia University, and was ordained by the Jewish Theological Seminary (1918). While on a one-month leave from the Army, where he served as a chaplain, he was asked to come home to organize what became the The Emanuel Synagogue, the first Conservative synagogue in Connecticut. He was subsequently asked to set up Conservative congregations in a number of other eastern communities. Rabbi Spitz was an ardent Zionist and officer of the Zionist Organization of America, the American Jewish Congress, and the Connecticut/Rhode Island division of United Palestine Appeal.
Rabbi Spitz was also a prolific author of historical fiction for children and adults. His books included: Jews and Judaism in American Poetry, Memoirs of a Camp Rabbi, and What the Liberty Bell Proclaimed. He was the editor of the Connecticut Jewish Year Book, the editor and manager of the Connecticut edition of the Jewish Advocate (1908) and contributed to British and American religious publications. Rabbi Spitz died in 1959.
Born: Kherson, Russia
Served: Agudas Achim
When Rabbi Abraham AvRutick took to the pulpit of Agudas Achim, the largest Orthodox synagogue in Connecticut, a new era in the evolution of Orthodox synagogue life and leadership in Hartford would truly begin. AvRutick received his undergraduate education at Yeshiva University and his rabbinic ordination from its Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary, the flagship institution of what was then coming to be known as Modern Orthodox Judaism in America. Serving 39 years as the rabbi at Agudas Achim, from 1946 until his death in 1982, Rabbi AvRutick was also elected to the presidency of the Rabbinic Council of America, Orthodox Judaism’s largest and most influential rabbinical organization. He is still the only Connecticut rabbi to have served in this position.
Rabbi AvRutick preached primarily in English with an occasional Yiddish sermon, to appease the fervent Yiddishists who remained within the congregation. Shortly after his arrival in Hartford in 1947, AvRutick was instrumental in founding the Va’ad Hakashruth, a communal rabbinic body established to supervise the sale of kosher food in Hartford. He was also instrumental in organizing a highly successful adult education program within Hartford’s Orthodox community.
Born: Wyzan, Poland
Served: Teferes Israel
Education: Grodno Yeshiva, Hebron Yeshiva
Haskel Lindenthal was born in 1916 in Wyzan, a small town in northeast Poland and attended some of the leading yeshivot of Eastern Europe. At the age of ten and a half, he left his family to go for his early training to Suwalky Talmud Torah, returning every other year on Passover. Later, he studied at the Grodno Yeshiva, at the Reb Miles Yeshiva (Netsakh Yisrael) in Vilna, and at the Yeshiva of Mir, three renowned rabbinical academies in Europe, now lost. He received smichah (rabbinical ordination) separately from two of the leading lights of Orthodox Jewry, Rabbis Shimon Shkop the head (Rosh Yeshiva) of Grodno, and later from Rabbi Yehezkel Sarna, the head of the Hebron Yeshiva in Jerusalem.
In 1936, Rabbi Lindenthal went to Palestine, where he continued his studies at the Hebron Yeshiva. There he learned the practical skills of the shochetand mohel, receiving kabbala (licensure as a ritual slaughterer) from the Chief Rabbi of Jerusalem, Rabbi Tsvi Pesach Frank. Shortly after his arrival, he joined the Haganah, the Jewish underground military organization in Palestine. Trained in the use of small arms and hand grenades as well as military strategy, he assisted with Aliyah Bet, the immigration of Jews to Palestine outlawed by the British Mandate government. Rabbi Lindenthal’s decision to pursue learning in Palestine saved his life, but his father, a brother, four sisters, three brothers-in-law, their children, and other family members were murdered in the Holocaust.
Rabbi Lindenthal came to the United States after the outbreak of the war in Europe because his wife, Naomi Weinberg, the daughter of a Jerusalem family, possessed American citizenship. Her father, a meshulakh (a traveling fund raiser for yeshivot), had gained citizenship and was able to bestow it on Naomi, her siblings, and her mother. For Naomi, American citizenship was her father’s legacy since he died before she was born. Naomi’s American citizenship required that she come to the United States before the age of twenty-two. In January 1939, she embarked for the homeland she had never known. She settled in Hartford, where older siblings had come a decade earlier.
Her husband, Rabbi Lindenthal, was able to join her in April 1940. Shortly after his arrival, he received an offer to serve as a rabbi in Roanoke, Virginia, a community he served until 1944, when he returned to Connecticut and settled in Middletown. There he served as a shochet and led the Hebrew school at Congregation Adath Israel, where a newly ordained, American trained rabbi, William Cohen, led the congregation for two years. Rabbi Lindenthal’s roles in Middletown helped him to improve his fluency in English, a language he eventually spoke with particular eloquence. His budding linguistic facility made him more attractive as a potential American spiritual leader and, with the endorsement of Eva Stolz, Naomi’s stepsister, he received an offer to lead Chevre Kadishe Teferes Israel, a congregation developed from the merger of immigrant synagogues founded at the turn of the century. In 1956, its leaders asked Rabbi Lindenthal to serve as their rabbi for the salary of $35 per week. Under his leadership, the synagogue grew to over 300 members and Rabbi Lindenthal served as its spiritual leader for over 40 years. The synagogue followed Hartford’s Jewish community to the suburbs, establishing new quarters at 27 Brown Street in Bloomfield in 1970. In addition to his rabbinic duties, Rabbi Lindenthal was a popular mohel for the Hartford community and published four books: Pages of My Life, an autobiography; A Taste of Talmud, a selection of Talmudic wisdom; and two books on Hebrew poetry.
Educated: University of Lwow
Served: United Synagogues of Greater Hartford
Isaac C. Avigdor was the son of Rabbi Jacob Avigdor, the distinguished chief rabbi of Drohobycz – Boryslaw, Poland during the 1920’s and 1930’s. The younger Avigdor attended the University of Lwow and received rabbinic ordination from Rabbi Sholom Czernik, author of Mishmeret Sholom, and Rabbi Nahum Babad, rabbi of Tarnopol. He then assisted his father.
Rabbi Avigdor was imprisoned by the Nazis in 1939 and spent the next six years in labor and concentration camps including Auschwitz and Mauthausen. Liberated by the American army in May 1945, he became active in the rescue and rehabilitation of Jewish refugee children in Europe and was attached to the Jewish Brigade of the British army. Rabbi Avigdor emigrated to the United States in 1948, where he first served as a yeshiva administrator and then as executive vice president of Hapoel Hamizrachi (one of the national organizations of religious Zionists) in New York City.
In 1957, Ateres Knesseth Israel purchased a lot on the corner of Mohawk Drive and North Main Street, prime real estate in West Hartford. To help support this venture, Ateres Knesseth Israel merged with Beth Hamedrash Hagodol (generally known as the Garden Street Synagogue) to form the United Synagogues of Greater Hartford in 1962. The congregation remained active throughout the tenure of Rabbi Avigdor, who retired in 1993. Rabbi Avigdor’s higher secular education and his pedigree as the son of a renowned decisor (posek) of Jewish law made him especially attractive to the European immigrants and their children who were members of his new synagogue. Nevertheless, when he sought to describe his experiences during the Holocaust, he was cautioned against such a step. Further, when the congregation reached West Hartford, the synagogue board asked him to dispense with bi-weekly Yiddish sermons in order to be “modern.”
Avigdor was an active communal leader, but outside of Hartford, he became best known for his publications. He authored hundreds of articles in Hebrew, Yiddish, and English that appeared regularly in the popular Yiddish and Anglo-Jewish press as well as two autobiographical books of reminiscences and sermons describing his concentration camp experience and a volume of Yiddish poetry written during his incarceration.