Ritual and Decorative Objects
University of Cincinnati Hillel Collection
This stained glass window is from Virginia Street Temple, Charleston, West Virginia.
In 1873, five Jews joined together to form Congregation Bene Israel. They bought a small plot of land for use as a cemetery, and eventually built a small synagogue. The founding of Bene Israel coincided with the founding of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations. The congregation was originally called the Bene Israel Hebrew Educational Society. According to Rabbi David Philipson (HUC Jubilee Volume, 1925), several offers of property were made to provide a site for the seminary in Charleston, but it was a foregone conclusion that the college would be built in Cincinnati, where Rabbi Isaac Mayer Wise lived and served Congregation K.K. Bene Yeshurun.
The prosperity of the early Jewish settlers must have been an inducement to other Jews to come here, and make this community their home. By 1894, the community had grown to 250 people, and erected a Moorish style building. Dedicated by Isaac Mayer Wise on April 17, 1894, the Virginia Street Temple was served at the time by Rabbi M. Salzman, one of Wise’s students. The lavish dedication ceremony was recounted by Wise in Cincinnati’s American Israelite.
The early years of B'nai Israel required serious financial sacrifices; yet the congregation was able to bring rabbis and teachers to the community. Rabbi Salzman was followed by Rabbi Leon Volmer (1901-1911). From 1912 to 1922, Dr. Israel Bettan served as rabbi of the congregation; he then left to become Professor of Homiletics at Hebrew Union College. Dr. Maurice Eisendrath (1926-1928), later Executive Director of the UAHC; Rabbi Ariel Goldberg (1928-1945), who went on to become Rabbi in Richmond Virginia.
In 1961 the building was sold, and the congregation relocated to the suburbs. Upon dedication of a new building, treasures from the Virginia Street Temple remained with various members and former members of the congregation. That original building has been remodeled and is used as a television station.