Generation One:  William Weidenthal in 1904
Rabbi Moses Gries The Temple on East 55th  1903 William Weidenthal

Rabbi Moses Gries was Tifereth Israel's first American-born, American-educated rabbi. Born in Newark New Jersey, he graduated from the Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati and the University of Cincinnati. He came to Cleveland in 1892, only 24 years old, from a pulpit in Chattanooga, Tennessee. He led the congregation for 25 years until he retired because of illness in 1917. He died the next year, only 50 years old. [ See NYTimes obituary (pdf) ]

Tifereth Israel was Cleveland's first Reform congregation, having joined the Union of American Hebrew Congregations (now the URJ) in 1873, when it was founded. That was 19 years before Moses Gries arrived. He would take it to the most progressive (farthest from tradition) edge of the movement. He moved the main service to Sundays - a practical change at a time when almost all worked a six-day week. His Sunday sermons were often on general topics and open to the community.

In 1894 Tifereth Israel moved from its building on Huron Road and East Sixth to a new home at East 55th (then Willson Avenue) and Central Avenue. The 1903 postcard above shows it at the intersection of two streetcar lines. The structure still stands and is now owned by a church. The congregation now called itself simply "The Temple."

In her History of The Temple, Ruth Dancyger relates a dispute at the time the sanctuary in the 55th Street building was being designed. Rabbi Gries, who had eliminated the teaching of Hebrew in the religious school, did not want an Ark with Torah Scrolls on the bimah. The trustees objected. The compromise they reached with their rabbi was that the Ark would be built, but the Scrolls would stay in the unopened Ark. Each week Moses Gries read from an English Bible. But on major events, as seen in the program below, they were removed. (As the program for the 1904 Confirmation is not available, we show the program for The Temple's first Confirmation in 1896 which includes the use of the Torah Scrolls.)

Moses Gries helped to found many organizations within The Temple, in the Jewish community, and in the city. (See the Encyclopedia of Cleveland History).

We don't know if The Temple celebrated Bar Mitzvahs in its early years or if they continued to have them, but we know that in 1896 Gries introduced its first Confirmation ceremony.

William Weidenthal, Maurice (Bud) Weidenthal's father, shown on the right above in a photo taken in his 30's, was confirmed by Rabbi Moses Gries in the Willson Avenue Temple on May 22, 1904.

The program for The Temple's first confirmation. 1896.
(The program for the 1904 Confirmation is not available.)
Images courtesy of The Temple - Tifereth Israel archives.

The 1904 Temple Confirmation Class
with Rabbi Moses Gries - 27 confirmands

William Weidenthal's Confirmation Gift

Each confirmand received an inscribed copy of the Holy Scriptures (the Tanach), the Jewish canon: Torah (Five Books of Moses), Nevi'im (Prophets) and Ketuvim (Writings). This English-only book had been translated by Rabbi Isaac Leeser (1806-1868), America's great 19th century rabbi, author, translator and publisher. The title page is at the right.

More about William Weidenthal

At the time of his confirmation William and his family lived near East 40th Street and Orange Avenue. After confirmation he graduated from Central High School. Later he became publisher and business manager of Weidenthal Printing and Publishing that published the Jewish Independent, an annual Jewish Blue Book, and more.

He was a leader at The Temple and president of its Alumni Association. In 1921 the mayor of Cleveland named him chair of a committee of 100 leading citizens to welcome Albert Einstein and Chaim Weizmann on their visit to Cleveland on behalf of the Zionist cause. [Read more about Einstein's trip to Cleveland.]

William Weidenthal died at age 44, leaving a wife and five-year-old twins: Maurice (Bud) and Margaret.

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