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It wasn’t Atevka, it was Pushelot, a shtetl in Lithuania, but other than that the story could have come from “Fiddler On The Roof.” Just after the turn of the century, the first of our founders came to Lexington and encouraged their relatives and friends to join them here. The Orthodox Jewish community then consisted of just 8 or 10 families. They gathered in downtown stores for Minyans. This practice of Davening in the stores still lingered 50 years later with Minyans in Abie Grossman’s store on Water Street until it closed in the late 60’s. Traditionally, the Odd Fellows hall on West Short Street was rented for the High Holy Days.
The Early Synagogue Days
It was Joe Rosenberg who learned of the availability of a church building on West Maxwell Street. The Presbyterian Church was moving to East Maxwell. Ohavay Zion purchased their old building, and at last, in 1914, the congregation had a home.
The newly purchased church building consisted of little more than a sanctuary, and many changes were required before it could be used as a Synagogue. The old organ was removed from the southwest corner of the sanctuary and with the help of many of the congregants, the building renovated.
For a number of years after the Synagogue was bought there was no full time Rabbi. Although there are no records, it is generally agreed Rabbi Jacob Lowenthal arrived in 1919 to serve as Ohavay Zion’s first full time, salaried Rabbi. During the six years he remained in Lexington, Rabbi Lowenthal was Shochet and Mohel as well as Rabbi.
Rabbis came and went. One who stands out was Rabbi Jacob Danziger, who arrived as a bachelor in 1929, and married Ann Rosenberg before moving on to Huntington, West Virginia three years later. Other early Rabbis were: Rabbi Sofar, Rabbi Aaron, Rabbi Shapo, Rabbi Garfinkle, Rabbi Goldman, Rabbi Klibinsky, Rabbi Lowenthal, and Rabbi Prero, each of whom served about three years. Part of the difficulty of holding a Rabbi was the lack of housing within walking distance of the Synagogue. To solve this problem a house was purchased on Kilmore Court. Rabbi Sivawitz, an exceptional Cantor, and then Rabbi Beckerman lived in this house until it was sold and another, on Preston Court, was purchased. Rabbi William Frankel and Rabbi Albert Pappenheim each lived in the Preston Court house.
For many years, the Synagogue was without a Rabbi. Fortunately, congregants were able to conduct services and perform other duties. In the pioneer days Sol Kahn, Nathan Cantor and Berel Kravetz were Chazzans. Rev. Samuel Krasne served as Chazzan and Scochet, as well as Mohel. Of widespread fame in the Lexington Jewish community Rev. Harry Goller who Davened on holidays and gave sermons in Yiddish when there was no Rabbi available. In addition, Mr. Goller’s Kosher Butcher Shop on 4th and Upper Streets provided the Orthodox Jews with meat, poultry and delicatessen for over 40 years. During the war years, before Rabbi Beckerman came, Mr. Goller and Dr. Abe Wikler conducted the services.
It was about this time that Morris Scherago started a Sunday School and Berel Kravetz became the second man to serve the congregation as president. Both Sunday School and daily Hebrew School classes held in the basement. As new classes were added, they were placed various sections of the sanctuary.
Since the building consisted of just the sanctuary and the basement, Purim bazaars and Hanukkah parties were held in rented halls over the Water Street produce market, and in rooms over Woolworth’s and Skuller’s on Main Street.
A few years later, a small house on South Upper Street was bought. With the removal of several walls, it became a Social Hall for the congregation. Hebrew School, Sunday School, and all special functions were held there. Finally, there was a place, small as it was, in addition to the sanctuary, where people could socialize.