Hebrew Union College, the oldest Jewish seminary in the United States, was founded in Cincinnati in 1875, and graduated its first rabbinical class in 1883. Prussian-born Joseph Krauskopf was one of the four members of that class and became B’nai Jehudah’s Rabbi upon ordination.
Rabbi Krauskopf was well accepted by the Congregation beginning with his first high holidays here in 1883. He strengthened the religious school curriculum and was a strong proponent of Tikkun Olam. The young Rabbi sponsored the formation of the Poor Man’s Free Labor Bureau, a nonsectarian job placement agency in the summer of 1884. The bureau secured employment for 148 out of 158 applicants in its first six weeks of operation.
B’nai Jehudah’s Oak Street temple opened in September 1885. The new building was crowded every Friday night during the fall and winter of 1885-86 as Rabbi Krauskopf gave a series of 18 lectures on “The Jews and Moors in Spain.” His sermons began to attract members of the general community to temple services. In January 1886, The American Israelite newspaper published, “…the Christians come in large numbers; often they outnumber the members on Friday evening…and there is a good sprinkling of Christians on Sabbath morning, too.”
Despite enthusiastic acceptance by the Congregation and the greater Kansas City community, Rabbi Krauskopf was deeply troubled by poor Saturday morning worship attendance. It became so acute that he even spoke from the pulpit about moving Shabbat to Sunday. The Kansas City Star devoted its entire front-page lead column the following evening to excerpts from the sermon along with the reactions of five “prominent Hebrew merchants,” all of them favorable. About half of the congregation petitioned him to begin delivering Sunday lectures.
After some months of dissension about Saturday versus Sunday worship, Rabbi Krauskopf backed down and settled on continuing Saturday Shabbat services in the name of maintaining harmony in the Congregation. B’nai Jehudah was so fond of its Rabbi that it signed him to a new, higher-paying three-year contract beyond the expiration of his term in 1887.
But Rabbi Krauskopf had other aspirations. He was offered the pulpit at Reform Congregation Keneseth Israel (KI) in Philadelphia, one of the oldest Jewish congregations in the country. At the time, KI had 250 members compared to B’nai Jehudah’s membership of 100. The leadership here felt jilted after just signing the Rabbi to a new three-year contract. Following emotional exchanges and unsuccessful efforts to keep him here, Rabbi Krauskopf’s last service in Kansas City was Sukkot 1887.
The dispirited B’nai Jehudah closed its temple doors that Sukkot night and, with no Rabbi, kept them closed to worship for six months until Passover. The religious school was reorganized and opened six weeks after his departure.
In Philadelphia, Rabbi Krauskopf introduced Sunday services in addition to those on Saturday. He became a prominent leader in his city and in Reform Judaism as well as a friend of President Theodore Roosevelt. Rabbi Krauskopf was the third President of the Central Conference of American Rabbis, serving in that role 1903-05. He remained the spiritual leader of Keneseth Israel until his death in 1923, a 36-year engagement.
B’nai Jehudah, ever resilient, today has a membership 25% larger than the Philadelphia congregation (source: URJ membership directory, November 18, 2020).
For further reading about Rabbi Krauskopf: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Joseph_Krauskopf
(Adapted from Roots In A Moving Stream by Frank Adler, z”l)
November 20, 2020