Jewish settlers lived in and around the Kansas City area since the 1840s. Congregation B’nai Jeshurun in Leavenworth and Congregation Adath Joseph in St. Joseph were both founded before the Civil War and Jewish cemeteries were established in Eudora, Leavenworth and St. Joseph during these years. Manheim Goldman was a Jewish merchant in Liberty and served as that city’s mayor twice.
The Hebrew Benevolent Society of Kansas City was formed in 1865 to facilitate burials and shivas. It paid $500 for ground at 18th and Lydia for the city’s first Jewish cemetery. The first burial was that of 22-year-old Helena Baum in 1866.
The town of Kansas (City) grew quickly after the completion of the Hannibal Bridge in 1869. It was the first permanent rail crossing of the Missouri River. The Jewish community here received its share of new arrivals and talk of forming a congregation had circulated for a few years.
The idea of starting a congregation was renewed at Rosh Hashanah services in 1870. The following Sunday, October 2, a meeting was held in a room above a grocery store near the riverfront. Twenty-five men pledged $800 to begin Kanas City’s first Jewish congregation. They were merchants, tobacconists, saloon owners and butchers, among other occupations. Most had roots in Germany or the countries under Germany’s influence.
By December 2, 1870, the fledgling B’nai Jehudah (children of Judah) congregation had rented temporary space at the Northwest corner of 8th and Main Streets. The congregation was Reform from the beginning. Mixed family pews and a choir composed of men and women were in contrast to traditional synagogues where seating was segregated by gender.
The new congregation engaged Marcus R. Cohen, a mohel from Chicago as its first Rabbi and services were read from Minhag America, the first siddur published in the United States. Its author was Rabbi Isaac Mayer Wise, an early pioneer of Reform Judaism in America.
Two of our current members descend from B’nai Jehudah’s 25 founding members. Mary Davidson is the granddaughter of Bernhardt Davidson, an immigrant who fought with the Confederate Army and was a cigar maker and undertaker. He served as B’nai Jehudah’s treasurer and cemetery warden. Nancy Reicher is the great-granddaughter of Bernhard Ganz who was a clothier and insurance agent and fought with the Union Army. Mr. Ganz was a B’nai Jehudah Treasurer and Vice President during the first decade of the congregation’s existence.
(Adapted from Roots In A Moving Stream by Frank Adler z”l)
Posted October 2, 2020