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A Brief History of the
Congregation Agudas Israel
as compiled from the archives of the Cincinnati Judaica Fund
The turn of the century was a time of great immigration and population shift from Europe to the “Goldeneh Medina,” translated from Yiddish as the Golden City, meaning the The Land of Opportunity and Promise, America.  Driven by religious and economic reasons, Jews from all over the world came to the American shores to find a haven and resting place. In American they would have the freedom to practice religion and the economic opportunities to prosper and live peacefully. 

Of the many groups of Jews that ultimately settled in Cincinnati, two groups were the Polish and Romanians.  Each group in time organized their own Synagogue and eventually found a home for prayer and worship, B’Nai Jacob was founded by the Polish on Clinton Street and the Anshei Sholom was founded by the Romanians on Clark Street in downtown Cincinnati.

In 1902, a year known for its persecution of the Jewish communities of Russia and Romania, a group of twenty-seven men established the Yad Charutzim Congregation, “The Hand of the Diligent Congregation.”  During the year 1905, while being situated at 1513 Central Avenue, the congregation split over the proposal to acquire cemetery grounds. Throughout Jewish history the purchasing of communal cemetery plots was given high importance to ensure proper Jewish burial of the departed.  Those among the members who favored acquisition of a cemetery resigned from the parent organization to form the new Congregation Agudath Achim, “The Group of Brothers.” With their small funds, they made the Covedale Cemetery into a reality.  A separate faction of sefard traditionalists also broke off from the Yad Charutzim Congregation and formed the B’nai Israel Congregation.   

In 1909, the Yad Charutzim Congregation and the Congregation Agudath Achim merged back together adopting a new name, the Anschei Sholom Romanian Harmony Congregation (frequently called the Romanishe shul).

Starting in 1910, the new Anschei Sholom Congregation davened in a synagogue on Court Street.  Shortly thereafter, in 1911, they partnered with the B’Nai Jacob congregation (also known as the Polish Congregation), and together bought land in Price Hill.  In 1915, they left Price Hill and moved to the house of the Talmud Torah located in downtown Cincinnati.  They remained there until 1922 when they purchased their synagogue located at 424 Clark Street.  From the year 1924 to the year 1931, the synagogue at 422 Clark Street served as the spiritual center of this congregation.  

The congregation made great strides under the leadership of their spiritual leader, Rabbi Mendel M. Hochstein, who was hired in 1921.  Rabbi Hochstein was brought over from Jerusalem by the Manischewitz family as part of their efforts to establish ties between their family and the rabbis of Eretz Israel.  This was part of a larger strategy aimed at utilizing the prestige of rabbis from Eretz Israel to legitimate the machine-made square matzot that the Manischewitz company produced, and to help promote them around the world.  Rabbi Hochstein  was the son of one of Hirsch Manischewitz's old teachers.  The Manischewitz family made him the kashrut supervisor (head mashgiah) at their bakery in Cincinnati.
The changing economic conditions and the trend of migration away from the downtown district compelled the membership to search for new quarters – this time in Avondale.  For two years after its departure from the downtown synagogue, the congregation held services in the Avondale home of the Talmud Torah.  Rav Hochstein was their rabbi until he left Cincinnati in 1932, when the Manischewitz company moved to New Jersey and Rabbi Hochstein moved with them.  After the departure of Rav Hochstein, they accepted as their rabbi, the Rav of the Agudas Harabanim, the Great Rabbi Eliezer Silver. Rabbi Silver had been brought to Cincinnati in order to run the Vaad Hoier and to bring about unity amongst the many orthodox congregations.
Back in 1917, a large part of the membership of the then famous Anschei Poland Congregation moved to Avondale and established the Beth Midrash Hagodol on Prospect Place.  The remaining members of the Anschei Poland Congregation re-organized themselves into the B’nai Jacob Congregation under the leadership of Rabbi Joseph Meyer Levine.  However, B’nai Jacob, forced to follow the general trend, moved out of the downtown area ten years later to new quarters at 520 Hale Avenue, in Avondale.

In 1929, the entire Cincinnati Jewish community joined the B’nai Jacob in mourning over the death of Rabbi Levine.  Two years later the congregation acquired the synagogue located at 521 Forest Avenue and they renamed themselves with the name of their deceased Rabbi, the B’nai Jacob Congregation Beth Hackneseth Joseph Meyer.  Following the unfortunate death of their spiritual leader, the congregation hired Rabbi Bezalel Epstein as their new Rabbi.
A climactic event of metamorphosis occurred in 1933 when the Anschei Sholom (Polish) and the B’nai Jacob Congregation Beth Hackneseth Joseph Meyer, headed respectively by presidents, Mr. Jack Horwitz and Mr. Aaron Wolf, united to form the Agudas Israel Congregation Beth Hackneseth Joseph Meyer.  Rabbi Epstein was still the Rabbi, and  Mr. Henry Freedman served as the first President of this merged congregation. During this time period, Rabbi Epstein came into great conflict with the Rav of Cincinnati, Rabbi Silver, over a number of issues.  Their disagreements  resulted in Rabbi Epstein pulling Agudas Israel Congregation Beth Hackneseth Joseph Meyer out of the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of Greater Cincinnati, which was an organization that was under Rabbi Silver’s auspices to unify the orthodox community under one leadership.
Around the same time, in 1936, two other congregations, the congregations B’Nei Israel and Kehillos Israel combined and were called Kehillos B’Nei Israel.  They purchased a house located at 3225 Harvey Avenue in Avondale next to the famous Mr. Yitzchak Carmel.  After a number of years at Harvey Avenue, Kehillos B’nai Israel Congregation merged with Agudas Israel Congregation Beth Hackneseth Joseph Meyer.
After the death of Rabbi Epstein in 1938, for close to ten long years, the congregation was without the services of a spiritual leader.  The congregation was becoming spiritually stagnant.  The need for leadership was great, yet it was not until letters from congregants’ sons and daughters, telling of the noble deeds of their Jewish Chaplains during the war began to arrive, that they realized the imperative necessity of preparing their spiritual home for the homecoming of the congregations’ children who had served in the military during the war.  The congregation therefore resolved at once to engage a rabbi who would be capable of serving old and young.  On March 10th, of 1945, they invited Rabbi Bernard D. Perlow of New York to visit the Synagogue.  With his eloquence of speech and understanding of the congregation’s problems, Rabbi Perlow soon convinced the congregation of his abilities to lead them.  On March 18, 1945, the membership met to elect him unanimously as the new Rabbi.  The congregation installed him on July 1, 1945.
On April 1, 1952, Rabbi David Indich assumed the pulpit of the Congregation still located on Forest Avenue.  At the request of many members who resided in Golf Manor, High Holiday services were held in 1955 at the Golf Manor Civic Hall, with 200 people in attendance.  Because of the interest of the worshippers and great need for a House of Worship in Golf Manor, it was decided that the time had come to relocate from Avondale.
Early in 1956, a search committee was formed to find a site for a new home.  The Mayor of Golf Manor, Thomas Dunlap, personally chauffeured Rabbi Indich around Golf Manor in quest of the site.  The President, Sidney Deutch, finally found a proper location and an offer was made.
With the blessing of the elder members of the congregation, Mr. Aaron Wolf, the Honorary President, and Mr. Isidore Liebowitz, President, a Building Committee, headed by Mr. Wm. Hyman and Mr. Al Waxman, was appointed.  Negotiations were entered into with the U.S. Steel Corp. for purchase of their Pre-Fabricated Synagogue structure.  Mr. Wm. Robertson, of Chelsea Construction Company, erected the building in record time.  This was the only building of this type ever built as a Synagogue.  Simultaneously, a contract was signed with the Warm Brothers for the construction of the auditorium.  Groundbreaking ceremonies were held on October 21, 1956.  Over two hundred people gathered to witness the ground-breaking of the new Synagogue Building to be erected on Stover Ave. in Golf Manor.  Services in Golf Manor were held for the first time on June 18, 1957.
As soon as the doors opened to the new home, the congregation was deluged with new members and the Synagogue became a focal point of activity.  An active Sisterhood, a vibrant Mens Club, a dedicated Mr. and Mrs. Club, a devoted Simchas Club, a P.T.A., Bible Study Group, Minyanaires and a variety of youth activities, became integral parts of the Congregational activities.   As the years went on and membership and activities increased, it became apparent that more facilities were needed.  In 1967, the beautiful Sanctuary was erected. The congregation grew by leaps and bounds under Rabbi Indich’s loving leadership and congregants loved Rabbi Indich as a father, someone who cared not only about their spiritual needs but was always there to help them and guide them in every aspect of their lives.
In 1988, Rabbi Indich’s failing health required that the congregation to select a new rabbi. Rabbi Hanan Balk, who had previously overseen the expansion of the Young Israel of Stamford, Ct. and who had overseen the building of its first synagogue, was chosen as rabbi.  The transition from rabbi to rabbi was a smooth one.  Rabbi Indich, now Rabbi Emeritus, passed away three years later, after serving the congregation for close to 40 years.
Rabbi Balk served the congregation for 24 years.  During that time, he raised the level of learning and observance of many of the members of the congregation. During his tenure, Rabbi Balk represented the congregation well both on a national level and locally. He was heavily involved in the Union of Orthodox Congregations and has attended events at the White House for Chanukah and for a prayer breakfast. Locally, Rabbi Balk served as the chairman the Vaad Hachinuch of The Cincinnati Hebrew Day School for 18 years and was a founding member of the Beit Din of Cincinnati. He served as the congregation's chazzan for over twenty years and taught the congregation’s youth both in preparation for their bar mitzvah and as part of the Anim Zmiros club. His lectures are world renown and are featured on Yeshiva University’s website. He dedicated much time towards outreach and in addition to his classes given at the congregation; he gave weekly classes at the Jewish Community Center, as well as lectures in hospitals, businesses, and in the University of Cincinnati law school. He also taught Torah on the radio, hosting "Religion on the Line," a two hour talk show on Cincinnati's CBS affiliate.  In 2012, Rabbi Balk retired, and became Rabbi Emeritus of the congregation.

In January of 2013, Rabbi Pinchas Landis took over as Senior Rabbi.  Rabbi Landis had been living in Cincinnati for 6 years prior to this, leading the Cincinnati Community Kollel Retreat Center in Mason and Congregation Ohr Chadash in Montgomery.
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