“BUILT THEE A HOUSE OF HABITATION AND A PLACE FOR THEE TO DWELL IN.”
II Chronicles 6-2 and Inscribed on the Cornerstone
Congregation Bnai Brith Jacob
The design and structure of Bnai Brith Jacob Synagogue is an articulation in brick and mortar of its century old tradition, of the ideals of Judaism and is symbolic of the Temple of old. A Synagogue is a House of Prayer, a House of Study, and a House for important communal gatherings. The three sections of our edifice express these very same three functions. As one enters through the main portals, the impression of serenity meets the eye. The large entrance hall at the south, tastefully furnished to serve as a Youth Lounge, represents the very motivation of our congregation, “And thou shalt teach them diligently unto thy children,” (Deuteronomy VI, 5). To link the past with the future, we find the Wall of memory commanding attention in this youth lounge. Here has been reset the first lintel stone, 95 years old, whereon is inscribed the name of the first congregation, and the date when the first building was erected at Montgomery and State streets. The cornerstone of the building, which was used from 1909 to 1962, has also been embedded in these wall together with all the plaques recording various donations of sacred objects and pews within the old building.
1861 HISTORY OF CONGREGATION BNAI BRITH JACOB 1991
The early history of Congregation Bnai Brith Jacob, covering perhaps our most interesting period, is somewhat obscure as the early records were lost long ago. Certain it is that the Congregation owes its inception to the coming to Savannah of a new type of East European Jewish immigrant who was accustomed to the Ashkenazic tradition of worship. This was in contrast to the Spanish-Portugese tradition that had been in practice by the original Jewish settlers of the Colony of Georgia who founded the Mickve Israel Synagogue. Therefore Congregation B. B. Jacob was organized in 1861 under the leadership of Rabbi Jacob Rosenfeld, establishing a place of worship in Amory Hall.
Some years later, in 1866, when the membership increased, a frame building was erected on the northeast corner of State and Montgomery Streets. The City Directory of those years states that services were held on Friday evening at 7:30 p.m. and Saturday morning at 9:30 a.m. However, when the great tide of immigration swept to these shores bringing thousands of Jews from the lands of persecution, it became necessary to satisfy the needs of a rapidly increasing Congregation. A few pencil-written pages have been found noting minutes of meetings in April, 1891, listing names that are still recognized today such as B. M. Garfunkel, I. Ehrenreich, J. Mirsky, M. Lasky, A. Hurwitz, S. Wilensky and J. Bernstein.
In the year 5666 (1907), plans to erect a new Synagogue at the same site were formulated by the Building Committee consisting of M. Blumenthal, B. Weitz, S. Friedman, M. Blumberg and S. Blumenthal. Although there were no funds on hand, their zeal and enthusiasm was so remarkable that they succeeded in raising Twenty Thousand Dollars ($20,000) from sales of seats and donations.
In the year 5668 (1909), a beautiful new edifice was erected at the cost of Forty-five Thousand Dollars ($45,000).
In 5672 (1913), Rabbi Charles Blumenthal was installed as Rabbi. Rabbi Blumenthal made an indelible impression on the Congregants, especially the youth of the City. Under his leadership, the Hebrew School reached an all-time high enrollment of two hundred (200) children. He was succeeded by several other noted leaders including Rabbi Nathan Rosen and Rabbi William Drazin.
An integral part of the history of the Congregation are its auxiliary organizations. The Chevra Kadisha of the Congregation was organized in 1895 to provide the sacred duties of last rites to the deceased and properly caring for their eternal resting place. B’nos Chesed Shel Emes was organized in 1916 to provide last rites to women and they succeeded in building the Chapel at Bonaventure Cemetery. Another group, the Daughters of B. B. Jacob, the forerunner of our Sisterhood, was formed in 1921 for the purpose of beautifying the Synagogue and Hebrew School. They also contributed large sums from their Treasury for the special needs of the Congregation.
An exciting new chapter in our history began in 1945 with Rabbi A. I. Rosenberg who was the driving force in the conception and culmination of the dream in 1962 of this beautiful new building. To quote our revered Rabbi Rosenberg, “There was a great deal of tradition and warmth that we enjoyed for over a century in the old location of our Synagogue and it is our sacred obligation to retain those traditions in our new edifice.” Accordingly, the new Chapel was furnished from the old Synagogue with the Bema, the Torah Ark, the Eternal Light, and the benches and the old chandeliers were installed in the new Social Hall.
Today B. B. Jacob’s commitment to Judaism is stronger than ever due to the inspired leadership of Rabbi Avigdor Slatus. B. B. Jacob now proudly stands with many other great centers of Orthodoxy in this Country with our numerous activities available to young and old in the entire Savannah Community. Our on-going activities range from daily study groups in Hebrew, Bible and Prayers to in-depth Talmudic studies in conjunction with the Savannah Kollel.
May the commitment, dedication and beauty of the many lives in our past history serve as an inspiration to those of us in the present so that we may continue to build an even more glorious foundation for future generations of B. B. Jacob!