In 2004, Beth Israel celebrated its centennial honoring 73,000 daily minyanim hosted, its unique legacy as a modern orthodox synagogue in New Orleans with roots dating back to the mid-1800s, and 100 years of synagogue presidents, sisterhood presidents, and Rabbis. Below is a brief timeline of our proud history.
Our first 100 YEARS
1757 – Issac Monsanto, a Dutch/Sephardic Jew, arrives. Eldest brother of first Jewish family to permanently settle in New Orleans.
1828 – Congregation Gates of Mercy chartered. First Jewish congregation in New Orleans. Membership primarily of German and Alsatian origins.
1857 – Congregation Tememe Derech chartered. Located at 500 Carondelet Street. Membership primarily of Polish decent.
1863-1904 – Eastern European Jews arrive, settling in Rampart/Dryades Street neighborhoods. Several small independent Orthodox minyanim are organized.
1903 – Historic meeting of New Orleans Orthodox community to discuss creation of city-wide Hebrew School. First suggestion of a united Orthodox synagogue.
January 18, 1904 – Congregation Beth Israel chartered to “worship G-d according to the Laws of Moses, as interpreted by the Talmud, the Ritual of Shulchan Aruch, and the regulations of Minhag Ashkenas, practiced throughout the world by all Orthodox Jews.” First President: David Rosenson Membership dues: $12 annually
1904-1905 – Services originally conducted in old Tememe Derech Synagogue, 500 block of Carondelet Street. Beth Israel then rented facility corner of Carondelet and Poydras Streets.
1905 – Congregation President Isaac Haspel appeals to entire Jewish Community to help Congregation Beth Israel establish a permanent site: “The Orthodox Jewish community in our city is without a suitable place of worship. The name of our Congregation is Beth Israel, indicating by its very name our purpose; to gather all the smaller Congregation into one house, and bring about a union among out people, – a union that shall stand for strength, piety and harmony among the Orthodox and Reform alike, for the true liberal heart will concede that every man should be permitted to server his G-g according to own light; wherefore all should help us establish an Orthodox Synagogue here worthy of its name and worthy of the generous community in which we live.”
1906 – First High Holiday Services held at new site – 1616 Carondelet Street Home, purchased from heirs of former New Orleans Mayor Joseph Shakespeare, was large 3-story mansion built in 1830. Final cost of property/renovations:$21,000. Membership: 200 congregants.
1907 – First full-time Rabbi, H. Meyerwitz/annual salary $1,200.00.
1912 – Children’s religious classes changed from Saturday afternoons to Sunday mornings.
1914 – First Beth Israel Constitution and By-laws written. Women’s Auxiliary established, precursor to Beth Israel Sisterhood. First president: Mrs. Jacob Brener.
1924 – Old building demolished, new sanctuary constructed at 1616 Carondelet. Cost approximately $150,000. Seating capacity 1200. Building fund led by President Joseph Rittenberg. Rabbi: Henry Raphael Gold. Architect: Emile Weil. Elegant French chandelier imported by William Fledman.
1935-1940 – Rabbi: Uri Miller. Following Depression years membership grew to 350 families. “Burning of the mortgage” of synagogue at 1616 Carondelet Street (1938). Participating in ceremony, Meyer Lachoff, age 10. Hebrew School faculty led by Abraham Feingold and Philip Miller. Cantors Abraham Kruschevsky and Bernard Schram and choirs led Services. Shammus: David Cooper. Sisterhood Matonas Shop opened; first Judaic merchandise shop in New Orleans. Beth Israel organized its own Chevra Kadisha, led by Harry Lopp. 25 year Celebration of Menorah Institute.
1940′s – Beth Israel Nursery School established-Teacher Esther Fisher Sinauer, “Morah”. Second seder participation 200 congregants. Menorah Institute presidents-Aaron Lubritz, later Joseph Hurwitz. First Bat Mitzvah – small group of 12 year old “young ladies”. Junior Congregation Services began. Rabbi: Isaac Botkofsky, later David Pailet. Membership supported war effort with U.S. War Bond sales and Red Cross volunteers.
1950′s – First New Orleans congregation to conduct Israel Bonds Appeal during Yom Kippur Services. Continues annually to present day. President: Morris Hyman, then Lester Gerson. Rabbi: Israel Weisfeld.
1954 – Purchase of St. Charles Avenue residential property; construction of first rabbinic domicile. Installation of air-conditioning in Sanctuary and Menorah Institute.
1960′s – Neighborhood changing – New building Committee established for site relocation. President: Michel Yuspeh. Sisterhood introduces annual congregational calendar, listing special events.
1963 – Purchase of property at 7000 Canal Boulevard. Sisterhood Brick Fund, conceived and chaired by Lillian Rodos, over $10,000 raised.
1964 – Property acquisition led by Israel Trestman. Ribbon cutting at new site-7000 Canal Boulevard.
1970 – First High Holiday Services at Canal Boulevard. Rabbi: Jeffery Bienenfeld. President: J. Joseph Blotner. Gabbis: Jacob Merlin, Meyer Lachoff. Lakeshore Hebrew Day School first housed in Beth Israel.
1972 – Rabbinic Residence purchased on Beryl Street. Yizkor Book originated by Harry Nowalsky.
1950′s-1990′s – Eras of original musical variety shows and skits. entertainemnt written and perfomed by congregation members, “Lil, Mil, and Sil Productions” – Lillian Watsky, Mildred Covert and Sylvia Gerson. Also, Roz Trestman, Bernard Burk, Harriet Handelman and casts of hundreds.
1980′s – Bingo provides funds for shul – group of “regulars” volunteer to work weekly games. Chairman Sidney Cotlar, the Eddie Gothard. Beth Israel youth travel on variety of cultural/educational programs.
1990′s – Harry Melman dedicates permanent sukkah in memory of his wife, Elizabeth and family members. Beth Israel sponsored Art Shows, including exhibits of traveling Israeli artisans and craftsmen.
1991 – Dedication of New Beth Israel Cemetery and Lester Gerson Memorial Chapel at 4400 Elysian Fields Avenue.
2000-2004 – Beth Israel elects first female president: Jackie Pressner Gothard. Rabbi: Yisroel Shiff. Monthly Shabbat Kiddushes honoring members’ birthdays/anniversaries inaugurated.
2004 Beth Israel celebrates its Centennial! Click here to view 100 years of past synagogue presidents, sisterhood presidents and Rabbis.
*This chronologic history compiled by research and personal memories of Julie Paliet Cohen, Mildred Lubritz Covert, Jackie Pressner Gothard, and professional archivist, Irwin Lachoff.
BETH ISRAEL AND HURRICANE KATRINA
Our synagogue flashed on the world scene in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, as a ZAKA volunteer was captured on film carrying Torah scrolls out of our flooded sanctuary. Unfortunately, those scrolls could not be salvaged, and all seven of them, along with more than 3,000 holy books were later buried in our cemetery here in New Orleans.
On the morning of August 29, 2005, the federal flood protection system failed in the wake of Katrina’s storm surge. Just a half mile from Beth Israel, a breach in the 17th Street Canal sent nearly 10 feet of water pouring into the Lakeview neighborhood, destroying our synagogue, and scattering our community far and wide.
September 13th, 2005 – After two weeks of being submerged in water, Beth Israel’s seven Torah scrolls are removed by Rabbi Isaac Leider of ZAKA.
September 14th, 2005 – Under direction of the synagogue leadership, Becky Heggelund, Beth Israel’s secretary, received the Torahs from ZAKA and buried them in her backyard.
Read the Yom Kippur speech given by our past president Jackie Gothard after Hurricane Katrina.
November 2005 – Congregation Gates of Prayer opens its doors to Beth Israel to hold its services temporarily in the Bart Community Room.
December 21, 2005 – More than 3,000 holy books are buried in a special plot donated to Beth Israel by the Ahavos Shalom Cemetery.
March 19, 2006 – The Torahs are reburied in a special blot in the old Beth Israel Cemetery, next to Meyer Lachoff z”l, the congregation’s long-time gabbai who passed away in the aftermath of the storm.
Click here to view pictures of Beth Israel in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.
Click here to read the about next chapter in our story.