Anshe Chesed (now Anshe Chesed Fairmount Temple) was
founded as a German Orthodox congregation in 1841 and chartered on 28
Feb. 1842. It is the oldest existing Jewish congregation
in Cleveland. It was formed after 30 members
of the Israelitic Society of Cleveland, the city's first
congregation, seceded in a dispute over religious
ritual. Differences were overcome in 1845, and the
groups merged under the name Israelitish Anshe Chesed
Society of Cleveland.
Encyclopedia of Cleveland History and
Rabbi Moses Gries history of Jewish Cleveland.
"As soon as resources
permitted, the reunited Israelitic Anshe Chesed Society
employed John Wigman, a master builder, to construct
Cleveland's first synagogue building. The Eagle Street
Synagogue, a modified version of the local Baptist
church, was erected on the south side of Eagle Street
and dedicated August 7-8, 1846." The above quotation
and the photo below are from Merging Traditions page
Leonard Case Senior was an official with
the Connecticut Land Company, which at one time owned all the land of
the Western Reserve. Perhaps Cleveland's first
philanthropist, Case gave land for the building of
several houses of worship. (Twenty-five years later his son,
Leonard Jr., would found what the Case School of Applied
Science which would become the Case Institute
Anshe Chesed Society received a
lot on Ohio Street (today Carnegie Avenue) which they exchanged for
lot 38 on the
south side of Eagle Street, between Erie Street (now
East Ninth) and Woodland Avenue. There, in 1846, they built
the city's first synagogue. The cost: $1,500.
What would $1,500 buy in 1846?
Here are two ways to estimate this. First,
wages for a carpenter were then about $1.30
a day, roughly 1/250th of today's levels.
Second, as recorded in congregation minutes of the
early 1850's, member dues ranged from five to
ten dollars a year. Thus our estimate is
about $350,000 - $400,000 in today's
economy. Buildings in 1846 were
much simpler. There was no electricity, gas
or central heating and no indoor plumbing.
cornerstone was laid on October 6, 1845, the synagogue
was dedicated in April 1846. (See
a detailed description of the service.)
The sanctuary was designed for
the traditional practice of separate seating of men and
women. A ladies' gallery ran along three sides.
Only two years later dissension would
split the congregation again and lead to the formation
of Tifereth Israel.
Why was it so difficult to have only one
In the early 1800's waves of change
swept Central European Jewry as many rabbis
and their congregations adjusted to modernity with new
practices they called "Reform." These
recent arrivals from Central Europe
faced the same questions about Jewish law and tradition. Should
they continue the custom of kashruth?
Must a man cover his
head when praying? Could men and women
sit together in the synagogue? Would there be music in the
service? And much more. Then add the question of
language: should German or English be used
in prayer books and in sermons? It is
easy to understand the tensions that American
Jewish congregations of the day needed to resolve.
Those tensions would split some Cleveland
synagogues in the 1880s and later, but they
were not the reason for the Anshe Chesed
being unable to remain intact.
The most careful study of those early years
of Jewish Cleveland is
Dr Alan Peskin's 1973 monograph "This Tempting
Freedom", which can now be read
link to CSU's
Cleveland Memory website ].
His conclusion is that the split was
caused by "minhag". The
first members from Unsleben Bavaria had brought
over their worship customs from their small
isolated town. Other members, from other
Bavarian towns, had different practices. The Unsleben faction,
in control, would not
compromise. As a result, many of the others left.
Students of management would say it was an
unwillingness to share power.
Anshe Chesed grew and
in 1860 they enlarged the building. In 1887 they moved to a new building 18 blocks east,
at Scovill Avenue and Henry (now East 25th) Street. See
history of Fairmount Temple. In 1887 they
sold the Eagle Street Synagogue building to B'nai Jeshurun for $15,000. B'nai
Jeshurun would occupy it until 1906.
See the B'nai Jeshurun history page.
In 1927 the original building
became a freight depot.
See a picture.