Kansas City had about 32,000 residents at the time of the Congregation’s founding in 1870. It grew to 52,000 by 1880 and mushroomed to 132,000 by 1890. Among the new residents in the early 1880s were Jewish immigrants from Eastern Europe.
The beginning of the great migration from Russia came in the winter of 1881-82 when a few refugees reached Kansas City in the aftermath of the pogroms that followed the assassination of Czar Alexander II. They were mostly poor, uneducated and in need of settlement assistance.
B’nai Jehudah’s members, especially The Hebrew Ladies’ Relief Society auxiliary, helped shelter and clothe the impoverished newcomers and sought to help them secure a means of livelihood. Those who possessed needed skills (especially in the building trades) readily found employment.
Kansas City entered a period of renewed prosperity and many of B’nai Jehudah’s families shared in the general affluence. In the fall of 1881, 40 Temple members organized the downtown Progress Club that was to become the scene of banquets and dances for Kansas City’s Jewish “Society.” B.A. Feineman, the Congregation’s president, became the first leader of the Progress Club that was the forerunner of Oakwood Country Club. Most early Temple and Progress Club members were of German background in contrast to the new Russian-born immigrants.
In 1883, B’nai Jehudah hired Joseph Krauskopf as its sixth Rabbi in 13 years. Rabbi Krauskopf was ordained that year as a member of the first graduating class from Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati. He was among the first four American-trained rabbis. The Congregation quickly took to its young rabbi and provided him and his new bride, Rose, with “the coziest of homes, completely furnished in a most elegant manner from garret to cellar.”
Rabbi Krauskopf preached Reform Judaism. However, he reinstituted Hebrew instruction for students in the three highest grades. Students attended on both Saturday and Sunday mornings.
The new Rabbi’s mood was one of confidence and the membership’s matched his. The eight-year old temple at Sixth and Wyandotte was sold in 1883 in anticipation of building a larger one further south. The sale brought $15,500, more than twice the cost eight years before. The Congregation rented back from the new owner until its new building at the southwest corner of 11th and Oak was completed in 1885.
(Adapted from Roots In A Moving Stream by Frank Adler z’l)
November 6, 2020