The Women of the Congregation
The women of the Temple Israel Sisterhood have always played a key role in setting the religious and cultural atmosphere of the congregation.
In 1859 there were at least eleven Jewish families who were established and secure enough to feel they would likely spend the rest of their lives in Paducah. What is more natural than to wonder where they would find their final resting place? A small parcel of land was purchased, named Chevra Yeshurum Burial Society (poetic interpretation, “Jewish Friends”), dedicated for Jewish burial and to this day is proof that people of the Jewish faith have been a small but permanent part of Paducah history for a very long time.
Ten men ready for a minyon (prayer) meeting in private homes led to the dream of a Synagogue. A room was set aside to be used as a place of worship on the second floor over a store on 2nd and Broadway. It served this pious group and it grew in number in just a few years.
About to outgrow the upper room they dreamed again of collecting enough money to buy some piece of property close enough to walk to for sabbath service, large enough to be a home for their Torah and to serve the needs of about 30-40 people.
Enter the Women
The women received the request for help with excitement. So much was needed. They plotted and planned. They sold their handiwork and their culinary efforts. They earned funds as wide and varied as propriety would allow. Little by little they realized they had formed a club – a sisterhood.
In 1871 the Orthodox congregation dedicated its first house of worship on Chestnut (south Fifth Street) between Clark and Adams, named Kehillah Kodesh Bene Yeshurum. It cost $2,500 and was the pride and joy of the congregation. Mr. Leon Leopold was asked to be their leader. Although he was not an ordained rabbi, he was very dedicated to his religion, highly educated, and most respected in the community.
This house of worship was soon too small as more Jewish families were emigrating down the waterways and away from the Eastern seaboard cities. Committees were formed to solicit funds to build a larger Temple.
Enter the Women Again
The women wanted to help. And again they met the challenge by giving of their talents and energies. Two women sold chances on a diamond ring that had been given for that purpose. Others presented musicals, gave book reviews, and underwrote gracious Silver Teas. Some cooked and baked their way towards a new building.
Property on Seventh and Broadway was purchased. An impressive building was designed by architect Brinton B. Davis, of Byzantine style, at a cost of $30,000. It was dedicated in 1893 as Temple Israel, a Reform congregation and charter member of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations. The walk from Fifth and Adams to the new synagogue was indeed grand. Officers of the Board of Directors carried the Torahs and the children of the members scattered flower petals in front of the procession as proud parents and fellow congregants followed. This new Temple would seat 320 individuals at prayer. Surely it would last forever.
Meanwhile, the women who had worked so hard had become a more organized group and grew in numbers. By 1914 they called themselves “Sisterhood” and had joined the newly organized Federation of Temple Sisterhoods. They took on the obligations of the national organization and continued their local obligations to the community, religious life, and family. They supplied the Jewish children with their religious school needs. They underwrote many day-to-day expenses of the physical plant. By 1924 there were 70 paid members of Temple Israel Sisterhood.
As time and circumstances would have it, the Temple on 7th and Broadway became a problem. The building needed monumental repairs and the congregation did not grow to the anticipated size. The social hall and the religious school were much too small and the sanctuary was much too large. One year the Passover meal was served to a few members sitting on the stairwell of the social hall for there was not space enough to feed 100 people in the social hall. There were more than 40 children in the religious school.
Committees were formed. A small group of concerned congregants rose to this challenge. The search party suggested a building on 28th and Monroe. An architect was commissioned to create a house of worship worthy of the community.
So Enter the Women
Sisterhood pledged itself to underwrite the cost of furnishing the complete kitchen and all food service equipment as well as finishing the Auditorium. The members formed the “Sisterhood New Building Fund.” The public got behind this building project and supported every effort presented so that no one failed to be successful.
A popular singing artist who had ties to Paducah donated her roadshow before a sell-out audience, public dinners were well attended, bake sales and rummage sales, catering services offered private and church dinners and there were outright donations from private citizens of the community. Without these loving friends and neighbors of Temple Israel, the members could not have reached their goal in such a short time. Meanwhile, all other activities continued, such as preparing the food for Jewish Holidays, Oneg Shabbat, pot-luck dinners, and monthly Men’s Club-B’nai B’rith and Sisterhood meetings, as well as collecting donations for Jewish and local charities.
On April 7, 1963, the Torahs were carried into their new home. The Everlasting Light was softly glowing, the Yahrzeit lights (memorial lights) connected those in attendance with their past and the toast of “L’chayim” (to life) connected them with a future.
Now, after almost 140 years of continuous service, Temple Israel’s congregation has reason to be proud of and has supported Temple Israel Sisterhood these many years.
Information gathered from books by Isaac Bernheim, Richard E. Fairhurst, John E. L. Robertson, multitudes of old papers found in the Temple Israel unfinished balcony before the building on Seventh and Broadway was demolished, and a lot of memories.