Cobbles Park, Elmira, N.Y.
August 23, 2008

There were Jews in Elmira over 125 years ago, mostly those who had fled with other liberal thinking people in the face of the German revolution in 1848. These were the founders of our sister Congregation, Temple B’nai Israel, according to the German ritual.

The great number of Jewish settlers in Elmira, however as in all of the New World, was those who fled the cruel anti-Semitism of the Czar from 1880 to 1910. On October 10th, 1883, some of these refugees from Eastern Europe founded our Congregation, chartered as Congregation Addassah Anshai Newstadt. The names of the early members are familiar to us either in memory or through their children who are still with us: Jacobson, Kantz, Rubin, Hesselson, Heyman, Horwitz, Siskin, Golos, Lovitch, Etkind, Hoffman, Paltrowitz, and many more.
In 1886 the Sullivan Street Synagogue was founded by yet another group of East European Jews. The names of the men in the Synagogue too, are well known to us: Waxman, Platt, Spiegel, Stemermen, Herman, Epstein, Wladis, Levine and others. Most of the Jewish men of that day were peddlers covering a radius of 100 miles in all directions from Elmira carrying packs of everything from dry goods to eyeglasses. The East Side where most of the Jews lived was almost empty of men during the week. But on Friday, by twos and threes, they would trickle back to Elmira to settle accounts and bathe and dress. By sundown the roads in front of the Shuls were jammed with men and their sons who gathered to greet one another and to usher in Shabbos.

The Synagogue was their rallying place in time of joy or sorrow. It was a place for studying, for arguing, or just plain visiting. Drama to these men was everyday life and on Shabbos in Shul it was summarized for the week. In 1940 the Sullivan Street Shul burned down. Perhaps that was G-d’s way of uniting the two groups into Congregation Shomray Hadath in the Orchard Street Shul. But facilities were inadequate. The Talmud Torah, housed first in the building next to the Shul and later in the YMHA building on Madison Ave. was poor physically. The Synagogue itself was too cramped to house both groups and so in 1944, a drive began for a new Congregational home.

Under the leadership of Rabbi James I Gordon, CSH reached great heights; a new building, larger membership and the growth of the Talmud Torah, with 120 students. We saw change too. Many of our members moved to Florida and other places; many new families joined our membership roster, like Braunstein, Appel, Leveen, and Granoff.  A thirteen year old dream came true with the new Synagogue dedicated in 1957. Then by 1976 a new spirit of change arose with the Congregation joining the United Synagogue of America identifying itself with the Conservative movement.

The 70’s and early 80’s were exciting years for Congregation Shomray Hadath with a new breed of young professionals joining our Congregation with “Service & Support”. Names like, Schofield, Adelsberg, Seltzer, Novack, Berliss, Krueger, Cadel, Freidman, Rothstein plus many others. In May of 1982, we celebrated 25 years in our new building. Stained Glass Windows were dedicated. Then on October 29 1983 we celebrated 100 years of service in Elmira.

In 2008, CSH celebrated 125 years. Though our numbers are smaller than our building committee of 1944 could have imagined we’ve adapted, we’ve endured, and we’ve changed. We changed by offering a half dozen or so Friday night meals that are nicely attended. A few chosen Havdalah services that are held in different members’ homes and interesting topics are discussed. Saturday morning services are filled with lively discussions on a regular occurrence instead of just a sermon.

We have a combined Hebrew school system through the Jewish Center and Federation. We have a combined newsletter mailed to all members through the JCF. We’ve developed a fundraiser called Vacation Send Off. We’ve used the shul for many Jewish Community activities that have been well received. So you see the one thing that has remained true and will remain true in the future, Congregation Shomray Hadath has and must remain a beacon of Jewish life in the Twin Tiers.

In the words of the first woman President and my cousin Ruth “Chanee” Golos *** La-Dor – Va-Dor (from Generation to Generation, our people drew strength from our Synagogue. May we continue our dedication by making our Synagogue -
    A Beit Tefilla     *
בית תפילה  (a House of Prayer)
    A Beit Midrash   *
בית מדרש
  (a House of Learning)
    A Beit Knesseth  *
בית כנסת
  (a House of Gathering)

President David E. Siskin

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