Our roots date to 1848, distinguishing us as the oldest Jewish congregation in Indiana. Since its founding, the Temple has resided in four different synagogues. The current facility on Old Mill Road became our home in 1961.
In the beginning
Congregation Achduth Vesholom was organized by 23 members as a "Society for Visiting the Sick and Burying the Dead." It was Jewish tradition in the New World for burial grounds to be established before building houses of worship. On Oct. 13, 1848, the society bought for $200 the old burial ground adjoining what is now McCulloch Park. On Oct. 26, 1848, it officially organized the first Jewish congregation in the state of Indiana.
The founders held religious services in the home of Frederic Nirdlinger until 1859 when they had their formal house of worship. Men and women worshiped in separate parlors in keeping with Orthodox German traditions. Records show the founders were Nirdlinger as president, Sigmund Redelsheimer as vice-president, Isaac Wolf as treasurer and Isaac Lauferty as secretary. For 157 years, a direct descendent of those founding families remained a member of the Temple, a tie that ended in March 2005 with the death of Madelon Rothschild, a great-granddaughter of Sigmund Redelsheimer.
We were originally an Orthodox German congregation, and the minutes of all meetings were kept in German for our first 30 years. Rabbi Joseph Solomon, our first rabbi, taught Hebrew and German, as well as the fundamentals of our faith at what was the first Jewish parochial school. Public schools were not established until 1852. Rabbi Solomon also was the "mohel" and "shohet."
In 1859, our numbers had increased and we moved to our first temple, an old German Methodist Church at Wayne and Harrison streets, bought for $1,200. The dedication ceremonies on Sept. 23, 1859 were attended by many Christians and were considered so impressive that the ceremonies were repeated the following day.
Rabbi Solomon was succeeded by Rabbi Isaac Rosenthal. He received $400 from the congregation, plus 2 cents per animal for his duties as shohet and $5 for each circumcision. During his leadership, the new Synagogue of Unity and Peace officially became Congregation Achduth Vesholom on Oct. 6, 1861.
The arrival of Reform Judaism
Reform Judaism began to be introduced in August 1862 with the arrival of Rabbi Edward Rubin, our third rabbi. Records show the new Einhorn prayerbook containing German as well as Hebrew was introduced "so that the young people in the congregation could understand what they were praying."
By January 1866, men, women and children were allowed to sit together, a practice that continued all year except during the High Holy Days. Somewhere about the same time, records mention a Women's Organization that helped the needy and contributed $60 toward the purchase of a lot next to the synagogue. A few years later, the group contributed a Torah and silver pointer.
During Rabbi Rubin's tenure, the Union of American Hebrew Congregations was founded in 1873. In May 1874, we became a Reform Congregation and joined the Union.
Not everyone agreed with the move to Reform Judaism. In February 1866, a group of members withdrew, founded its own congregation and burial ground, and continued in existence for several years before returning to the fold of Achduth Vesholom. During this time, we'd again outgrown our quarters. Remodeling was impractical and too expensive, so we built a new Temple on ground purchased 12 years before at the corner of Harrison and Wayne. This first building drive attempted to raise $19,000 through fairs, lectures, picnics and a masked ball. The building was dedicated on January 7, 1867.
The congregation's fourth clergy, Rabbi Adoph Dushner, came in 1881. His offer to teach a class of non-Jewish students on the Sabbath did not meet with approval. In 1883, Israel Aaron, a member of the first Hebrew Union College graduation class, was sent to take the helm. He was well liked and became the Temple's fifth rabbi, making the congregation the first Temple to hire a graduate of the Reform college. Rabbi Aaron moved to Buffalo in 1887 and was succeeded here by Rabbi Tobias Shanfarber and a year later by Rabbi Samuel Strauss.
In 1884, the Temple bought two acres of land at Lindenwood Cemetery, having outgrown its original burial ground. From 1884 to 1900, bodies from the old cemetery were moved to the new one.
Rabbi Adolph Guttmacher became the eighth rabbi in 1889, followed in 1891 by Rabbi Abraham Hirschberg. The Union Prayer Book was established as the official ritual of the Congregation in 1891 and sermons in German were discontinued.
The tenth rabbi, Rabbi Frederick Cohen, served from 1896 to 1904. Next was Rabbi Harry Ettleson from 1904 to 1910, Rabbi William Rice from 1911 to 1912, followed by Rabbi Meyer Lovitch. Sisterhood was formally organized in 1914 with Rabbi Lovitch's wife as the first president. Until then, the women in the congregation had been active as the Ladies Benevolent Society.
Our third home in 1917
Rabbi Aaron Weinstein came in 1915, and during his term, it was decided that the Temple at Harrison and Wayne was too small. The third Temple was then built at Wayne and Fairfield and dedicated over a three-day period beginning December 28, 1917.
In 1924, Rabbi Samuel Markowitz, the 15th rabbi, came from Lafayette, which is the second oldest Reform congregation in the state. He was followed by Rabbi Frederic Doppelt who occupied the pulpit from 1939 to 1969. Rabbi Doppelt served the longest tenure and was the first Rabbi Emeritus in the congregation's history.
In 1939, World War II motivated the congregation to grant membership to all refugees who were financially unable to become members. We extended the use of the Temple to Jewish men connected with Baer Field. Many members joined the Armed Forces, and the Brotherhood presented to the Temple an Honor Roll Plaque naming them. In 1945, a woman's name -- Sydna G. Wenbert -- was added. At the Fort Wayne Jewish Federation's request, Rabbi Doppelt conducted services once a month at Baer Field for the 75 to 100 Jewish soldiers stationed there.
During the 97th Annual Congregational Meeting, a report was received that the radio had just announced the end of the War in Europe. All 150 members and guests rose to sing the Star-Spangled Banner and to join in a prayer of thanksgiving from Rabbi Doppelt.
The move to Old MIll Road
The current Temple building, the congregation's fourth, was dedicated in 1961. A gift from the Oppenheim Family spurred building the new Temple. Other milestones that remind us of Achduth Vesholom's long history: The first Bar Mitzvah was Albert Nirdlinger on March 20, 1858. The first Bat Mitzvah was Ellen Horn in October 1961. The first Saturday morning Bar Mitzvah was Stephen Zweig in June 1962.
The Temple Museum was established in December 1928 and designated the Goldman Memorial Museum in May 1931. In April 1941, the Temple Brotherhood became an official organization with 52 members. Adult Education was adopted in October 1946 as part of the Temple Religious program.
The Temple Youth Group was organized in 1952 and affiliated with the North American Federation of Temple Youth. Betty Stein became the first woman elected to the Temple's Board of Directors in May 1956 under an equal rights amendment that said "privileges of membership, including that of holding office and voting, shall be accorded to all members' wives." In 1984, she also became the Temple's first woman president, serving two years.
Our 17th rabbi, Richard B. Safran, joined us in 1969, taking an active role in congregational and community events during his 26 years of service. In 1995, he became the second rabbi emeritus in Temple history. He lives in Tucson, Arizona. During his tenure, the congregation became active with MAZON, the Jewish response to hunger in America, and food collections for the needy. Speaking and teaching about Judaism in local churches and colleges were among Rabbi Safran's interests in Fort Wayne. The congregation named the Rabbi Richard B. Safran Library after him in 2000 in honor of his 70th birthday and in appreciation for his role at the Temple.
In January 1995, the Temple became a non-smoking facility.
Later that year, the Temple Sisterhood voted to disband. The move came as a result of busy schedules at work and home, as well as recognition that women serve vital roles in all levels of congregational leadership and didn't need a separate organization.
In the summer of 1995, Rabbi Sandford R. Kopnick became our 18th rabbi -- only our third spiritual leader in more than a half-century. Working with high school youth and religious school students, educational programming for all ages, and outreach to the community and interfaith couples, Rabbi Kopnick focused on continuing the values of the congregation that helped create a warm and caring community.He established a post-Confirmation program for students in 11th and 12 grade.
The congregation celebrated its 150th anniversary in October 1998 with the theme "L'dor Vador - From Generation to Generation." Achduth Vesholom launched a Torah-writing project in late 1997 to restore a holy document saved from Nazi destruction in Czechoslovakia. The Temple's Holocaust Memorial Committee secured on permanent loan Scroll #1172 from the Memorial Scrolls Trust housed in Westminster Synagogue of London, England. The Torah is thought to date from mid-18th century Moravia and was probably written by a sofer with Kabbalistic (mystical) influence.
The Torah came to us with the last half of Numbers and first half of Deuteronomy intact. Master Sofer Dr. Eric Ray came to Fort Wayne and began writing the opening sections of Genesis and explained the intricate process of Torah writing. He then continued working on the Torah sections in New York and Israel for nearly a year to incorporate new sections with the old ones. He returned to Indiana to finish the final sections of the Scroll in time for Simchat Torah and the 150th anniversary gala. Bill Brosler, who died at age 101 in January 1998 after serving as the Temple's chief usher for 50 years, underwrote the cost of the restoration effort so that donations for the project could boost the Temple's Endowment for the future.
In the mid 1998, the Temple entered cyberspace, launching its website.
The Temple purchased additional land at Lindenwood Cemetery in 1999 to accommodate 209 more plots. The original graves in our section date to 1886.
In fall 2000, Rabbinic Intern Karen Bodney joined us for a two-year stay.
Rabbi Jonathan R. Katz became the Temple's 19th rabbi in the summer of 2001. Seeking to revitalize Jewish worship, education and community through a more personal engagement of religion, Rabbi Katz introduced our popular Friday Night Live service, Home Shabbat, the Maccabiah Games, and GUCIBAT. He also conceived and created our History Panels, a permanent display near the Temple library shaped like an open Torah scroll highlighting our congregation's story and its members. His involvement in local organizations led to the creation in 2007 of the Rabbi Jonathan R. Katz Bridge to Reading at Vincent Village, a special area at the local homeless shelter for families that encourages children and teens to explore the world of books. The area was made possible with donations from Temple members.
The position of part-time Temple administrator was created in December 2001 through the generosity of Lorry Goldenberg. Janet Katz became our first administrator in 2002, offering support to the rabbi, board and congregation. She served through 2005. Sally Trotter became administrator in 2006.
Rabbi Marla Joy Subeck Spanjer became the congregation's 20th spiritual leader and first woman rabbi in July 2007. Her contributions included leading a study group dedicated to Mussar and interfaith efforts in the community, including a year-long television show with local Christian and Muslim clergy.
The congregation formally adopted the Union for Reform Judaism's new Mishkan T'fillah prayer book in February 2008, replacing The Gates of Prayer.
Reaching our 160th year
In November 2008, Achduth Vesholom marked its 160th anniversary as the oldest Jewish congregation in Indiana. Two commissioned artworks were donated by Past President Charles Weinraub in honor of the occasion. The first consists of four bas relief portraits by Art Cislo telling the story of Joseph and his Brothers. The second, called L’dor Vador, is a large collage by Rick Cartwright comprised of photographs of members and their families that are integrated with a seven-branched menorah. Along with music from the Maxwell Street Klezmer Band, the community-wide celebration included the reuniting of two branches of the Nirdlinger family who are descendents of our first president Frederic Nirdlinger. They were brought together partly because of an Internet inquiry resulting in the reappearance of an antique walking stick presented by the congregation more than a century ago to their ancestor. The family donated the artifact to our museum in honor of the Temple’s milestone anniversary.
In the summer of 2010, Rabbi Javier E. Cattapan joined the Temple after serving for 12 years as spiritual leader of Temple Beth Israel-Shaare Zedek in Lima, Ohio. A native of Argentina, Rabbi Cattapan came to the United States in 1994 to attend Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati. Building on his love of music and singing, Rabbi Cattapan incorporated music from all over the Jewish world into services, classes and presentations.
Our commitment to Tikkun Olam (repairing the world) took a new form in October 2010 with a project called Thoughtful Thursdays. The Temple joined with the Jewish Federation of Fort Wayne and Congregation B'nai Jacob to regularly assist 85 children who attend Head Start at the Temple. Through this dynamic social action program, the Jewish community sends home to the Head Start families a bag on one or two Thursdays a month with food and an educational project. All the Head Start families have incomes below the federal poverty level. The program has branched out to include a tea in December to enable some of the Jewish community volunteers to interact with the Head Start families. A Temple member who is a retired teacher also works with Head Start parents and teachers on educational ideas that can be utilized at home and in class. Most recently, some of the materials have been translated into Spanish by a volunteer. We received an Irving J. Fain Social Action Award from the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism for Thoughtful Thursdays in 2013.
In March 2012, the congregation established the L'dor Vador Legacy Society to recognize individuals whose generosity and dedication will help support future generations. Anyone may join the Legacy Society at any time by providing a letter of intent that they've made arrangements for a planned gift. Members of the Society are recognized each June at the Temple's Annual Meeting.
Our volunteer Hazemir Choir celebrated its 26th and final birthday on October 26-28, 2012. Former Hazemir members came from across the country to mark this special milestone. Friday evening services featured the world premier performance of a composition by Dr. John Planer, the choir's founder and director, entitled "Sortie de la Torah," a setting of the liturgy for taking the Torah from the Ark. It originally was written in 1985 for the choir at the Synagogue de la Paix in Strasbourg, France. Dr. Planer told the congregation that a prominent and influential member of the choir said of the composition "ce n'est pas notre tradition" ("this is not our style") and it consequently was never performed. It was in style for Achduth Vesholom, as it drew generous applause from the congregation. For 26 years, Dr. Planer nurtured and taught the a cappella choir. In recognition of his leadership and commitment, the Board of Trustees honored him by creating the Dr. John Planer Music Fund.
The congregation began using the new High Holy Days prayer book Mishkan Hanefesh in 2015. It was the Reform Movement's first new machzor in 40 years.
Vision for the Future
As part of strategic planning efforts, the congregation decided in June 2012 to re-envision our current home at 5200 Old Mill Road to sustain the Temple, strengthen the Jewish community, and serve some of the neediest families in Fort Wayne. This effort has become the Rifkin Campus at 5200. The facility now houses the Jewish Federation of Fort Wayne, the Fort Wayne Jewish Cemetery Association, IPFW's Institute for Holocaust and Genocide Studies, and long-time resident Brightpoint Head Start. We broke ground in October 2015 for the Madge Rothschild Resource Center and held a formal dedication in April 2017.
The $1.07 million Madge Rothschild Resource Center is the centerpiece of the project. It's dedicated to the Jewish Experience in Northeast Indiana over the past two centuries, promoting Holocaust education as we strive for greater understanding among all faiths and people, and to bringing the Jewish and greater community together for programming and social events. The resource center houses the Rabbi Richard B. Safran Library and the Jacob Goldman Memorial Museum, which is under development.
We regularly work with our Campus partners and others in the community for programming. Highlights include:
In July 2016, Rabbi Lenny Sarko became spiritual leader of the Temple. Building on his experience with technology, Rabbi Lenny in Fall 2016 introduced TempleConnect, a videoconferencing system, and the congregation began offering online worship, Talmud, and other learning opportunities.
- The Temple's Holocaust Education Committee has partnered with IPFW's Institute for Holocaust and Genocide Studies and The Genealogy Center at the Allen County Public Library to offer programming to the wider community, including guest speakers and a "Genealogy and the Holocaust" program.
- The Holocaust Education Committee and the IPFW's Holocaust and Genocide Studies staff offered a one-week symposium in May 2016 to pre-service educators to teach them as much as possible about details of the Holocaust, as well as how to teach students of various grade levels about the Holocaust. Another symposium is under development for 2018. The committee also is developing a Holocaust Speakers Bureau.
- The Temple has partnered with the Jewish Federation and PJ Library for programming for young children in the Madge Rothschild Resource Center.
- The community's annual Interfaith Thanksgiving Service regularly brings together a large group at the Temple.