Those first few years of the 1870s were our congregation’s infancy. Our founding families had a cemetery, employed their first Rabbis and the Congregation became an original member of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations (now the URJ) in 1873. Weekly services were held in rented spaces with sermons delivered in English or German. Membership had grown from the original 25 members to about 40 by 1873.
The leaders talked of a permanent home for the Congregation. Two economic obstacles delayed that aspiration from becoming reality. First, the city’s banks closed in the fall of 1873 due to a nationwide financial panic. The following summer, an invasion of locusts destroyed the region’s annual crop harvest.
The Congregation’s ladies auxiliary, the Hebrew Ladies’ Relief Society, held a two-day “festival” in May 1874 to raise funds for a temple building. It was successful and raised $860.
A year later, enough funds had been raised to proceed with a building. B’nai Jehudah acquired ground at the southeast corner of Wyandotte and Sixth streets. A modest frame structure of Gothic style was completed within five months at a total cost of $7,000. Louis Hammerslough, president, donated the gas light fixtures, while the ladies of the relief society supplied the organ, carpets, ark curtain and Torah covers.
The new temple was dedicated September 24, 1875. The Kansas City Times newspaper covered the opening as important local news:
“The building is a perfect model of architectural beauty, and it is complete and elegant in all its appointments. It is constructed on acoustic principles and is admirably adapted to speaking or singing. The audience room will seat comfortably about three hundred and fifty people. The aisles are covered with a most beautiful carpet. The organ and choir are located in the gallery, in the rear of the room.”
After the dedication, the congregation and guests celebrated with food and dancing at McDowell’s Hall.
B’nai Jehudah occupied its first permanent home for the next ten years, a period that brought challenges followed by a return to optimism and strength.
(Adapted from Roots In A Moving Stream by Frank Adler z”l)
October 23, 2020