Past Presidents of the congregation were Samuel Frankel, Samuel Katz, Jacob Katz, Leopold Blumenthal, E.A. Katz, Isadore Roos, Irving Newman, William Roos, Leonard Weiss and Henry Skier.
The congregation followed the Reform liturgy and was associated with the Union of American Hebrew Congregations and the Jewish Institute of Religion – two groups, while not entirely disparate but certainly separate, which would one day join and become one. We chose our rabbis from Cincinnati and later from New York. Resistance to incorporate some “old country” rituals was strong. Many of the new congregants who were of Eastern European heritage brought with them feelings that were foreign to the then well-rooted establishment. Tashlich was new to many of us, but this has become an annual ritual. So far nobody has suggested kippura schlagen
Sabbath school was taught by women of the Sisterhood and then, in preparation for Bar Mitzvah and Confirmation, a Malamud was brought from Scranton each Sunday to teach us Hebrew and bible. Rabbis came for the High Holy Days and some Festivals but, for the balance of the year Sabbath Services were held each Friday night with a lay reader – this for the entire year except for the summer months. While the list is not complete we were served in the years 1937 to 1954 by both student and ordained rabbis. John Tepfer, Joseph Friedman, Baruch Braunstein, Herbert Weiner, Rayfield Helman, Wendell Philips, Robert Brinkman, Jerome Spivak, Bernard Bamberger, Samuel Volkman, Abraham Isaac Jacobson, Bernard Permutter, Harold Spevak, Kenneth Rivkin, and Jerome Davidson.
The Sisterhood was really the mainstay of fund raising. Really, little was needed since Katz Underwear Company underwrote almost all of the finances including upkeep. But the Sisterhood helped. They met almost weekly at what was called a kaffe klatch; there the women sewed garments for the poor and had occasion when they met to talk over temple functions and other bits of gossip which was, of course, the real reason for assembly. A Hadassah chapter was formed and this new organization made overtures to merge with the Sisterhood – a move which was rejected.
Three events were outstanding. In 1933, stained-glass gothic type windows were installed which were to disappear in the 1942 flood. On a Friday evening during service, the river overcame its banks and all assembled left with their lives. Baruch Braunstein was the rabbi that night. He was to have served us from 1940 to 1942. In 1949 a Centennial Celebration took place with a dinner at the Grace Church social rooms. In 1962 an annex to the temple was constructed. The decision to do this caused a great division among the congregation – really something of a schism – which threatened to cause some families to consider leaving. I recall that many persons boned up on the finer points of parliamentary procedure and challenged each other as to interpretation. There was much acrimony and ungentlemanly behavior which was not one of our prouder moments. But when one reads many of the entries of the original minute book, we see that this is merely atavism and reverting to type. The building was constructed and some of the members chose not to attend functions housed in “that building.”
We went on with student rabbi after student rabbi and, for many of us, wished for an ordained presence. It is true that Julius Kravetz helped us out for many years but he had a difficult role in that he also oversaw the student program. It was he, God bless him, who suggested that we look to the Regional director of the Pennsylvania Council of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations for help. We did so and Rabbi Louis Bogage offered to be our visiting rabbi – a position he shared with the Director of Camp and Youth Programming, one Allan L. Smith. The duo served us well. Rabbi Bogage was tied down to Philadelphia and suggested that Rabbi Smith take over. The rest is commentary.
Two other noteworthy events: In 1974 we celebrated our 125th year with Dr. Jacob Rader Marcus as speaker. In 1985 a restoration program was undertaken. The results are evident and Henry Skier weathered the storm of controversy as did Irving Newman during the building of the addition.
The make-up of the congregation now shows that most members are people who have recently moved to this area. I should like to quote a line from Tennyson:
“The old order changeth, yielding place to the new,
And God fulfills himself in many ways,
Lest one good custom should corrupt the world.”
All this having been said, it is fitting and providential that we have cool heads at the helm – President Henry Skier and Rabbi Allan Smith.
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . William J. Roos
Mr. Roos is the last direct descendent of the founders of Congregation Beth Israel still residing in Honesdale.
How wonderful to be able to read and reread this. Maybe this technology stuff isn’t so bad after all and the new spiffy website is very nice too!
- Eleanor Weber Dickman
My memories of religious school education and of choral contributions to services begin with memories of my mother, Julia Yale Weber, who served for many years as the educator of the Religious School and directed the Bar Mitzvot of Henry Skier, David Bloomgarden, and others, as well as the confirmation of many of our peers in the late 1950’s and early 1960’s. She was the organist during High Holy Day services, and conducted a choir (including me and my sister Debbie Weber Perry) and, as far as I remember, gave outstanding quality, energy, and meaning to Jewish education at Beth Israel. I wish to honor her memory by including her in the history of Beth Israel. She added educational expertise and intellectual quality to the synagogue and is the key figure in my memories of spiritual and academic growth in Jewish identity for many students. May her memory be for a blessing.
- Eleanor Weber Dickman