Jewish Congregations in Colorado

The first Jewish services were held in what is now the State of Colorado in 1859 by a few of the early gold-seekers of that faith. There is, however, no record of these exercises and those who came a few years later have merely the verbal report that the holy days were always kept by a group of the devout Jews who had come as trail-makers into the new gold regions.

The first permanent Jewish organization in Colorado was Denver Lodge, No. 171, Independent Order B’nai B’rith. This was instituted April 7, 1872.

The charter members were: David Kline, Louis Anfenger, Julius Londoner, Fred Z. Salomon, Herman Schayer, A. M. Appel, Samuel Rose, Bernhard Berry, Solomon Hexter, M. Abrams, Phil. Trounstine, David Mitchell, Isidor Deitsch, Michael Hattenbach, H. I. Weil, Edward Pisko, John Eisner, Simon L. Wels, H. Z. Salomon, Charles Rothschild, and Caesar Casper.

The event took place at Clark and Crow’s Hall, at Fifteenth and Holladay (now Market) streets. The first officers were David Kline, president; F. Z. Salomon, vice president; Louis Anfenger, secretary; Phil. Trounstine, treasurer; A. M. Appel, monitor; David Mitchell, assistant monitor; S. L. Wels, warden; Ed. Pisko, guardian; H. Z. Salomon, S. Hexter, and Julius Londoner, trustees; and Dr. J. Eisner, lecture master.

Two months later Temple Emanuel was organized, Louis Anfenger, the secretary of the lodge, being chosen president of the congregation. The latter worshipped in the B’nai B’rith Hall for some time, the lodge paying for the hall rent and Congregation Emanuel for the fuel and light.

In 1874 the congregation, consisting of twenty-one members, considered ways and means for raising funds to build a house of worship.

A fair was among the devices, and proved successful. The Hebrew Ladies’ Benevolent Society donated the carpets, furniture and other accessories, and the modest structure at Nineteenth and Curtis streets was dedicated September 30, 1875.

The members of the choir, during the first years of the Temple’s organization, almost all volunteered their services. One soprano was engaged and an organist for a short period. Later Miss Seraphine Eppstein, now Mrs. Pisko, volunteered her services as organist. The other members of the choir were Mrs. C. M. Schayer, Mrs. Samuel Cole, Mrs. E. Block, and Messrs. Ben Hamburger and Frank Kratzer.

The following year Rabbi S. Weil was engaged to serve the congregation. He established a religious school, having sessions both Saturday and Sunday, being assisted by volunteer teachers. He ministered to them a few years, when he was followed by Rev. Marx Moses, whose occupation of this pulpit was of but short duration, when he was succeeded by Rabbi Henry Bloch, who remained until August, 1881.

The congregation was slowly growing with the growth of the town and its home became too small. When Dr. M. Elkin arrived in the fall of 1881, he found his congregation making preparations to move into a larger and more pretentious abode, at Twenty-fourth and Curtis streets.

The building and lots of the old temple were sold, and later used by the orthodox congregation, Ahava Amuno, which, however, was short-lived. A fair was held at Standard Hall, where a large sum was raised towards defraying the expenses of the new edifice.

On September 1, 1882, the dedication occurred. Dr. H. S. Sonnenschein, then of St. Louis, came to Denver to assist in the exercises.

Rabbi Elkin was succeeded by Dr. Emanuel Schreiber, under whose ministrations the congregation prospered greatly. Following him came the Rev. Mendes De Solla.

Rev. De Solla was succeeded by Dr. William S. Friedman in 1889. The arrival of this young Rabbi marked the beginning of a new era for Congregation Emanuel. He infused life and energy into an almost inanimate organization. He retained a strong hold upon the older members and reached the young people, making of the temple a real social and religious center. The attendance at services was very large immediately after his coming, and has not since that time decreased, but has grown with the growth of the community.

The temple was destroyed by fire in November, 1897. The congregation decided not to rebuild upon the same site; but the location chosen was at Sixteenth Avenue and Pearl Street, where the temple now stands. The three lots cost $7,750, and the building $35,000.

During the fifteen months that the congregation was without a home they held services at Unity Church, which was offered them immediately after the disaster.

The new house of worship was dedicated January 29, 1899, the third home occupied by Congregation Emanuel. Seven ministers of various Christian churches, with whom Doctor Friedman had frequently exchanged pulpits, assisted at this beautiful and impressive dedication, making it a fellowship service. They were Dr. David Utter, Dr. Claudius B. Spencer, Rev. (now Bishop) Wm. F. McDowell, Revs. Barton O. Aylesworth, Frank T. Bayley and David N. Beach.

From the time of his coming to the city, Doctor Friedman, who a few years ago was elected rabbi for life, has identified himself with all broad charitable undertakings, both sectarian and non-sectarian.

He was appointed on the State Board of Charities and Corrections shortly after he came to Denver and has since remained a member, serving twice as president. He is an officer of the State Prison Association. He has been identified with the Associated Charities, having for many years served as one of its vice presidents. He is vice president of the State Conference of Charities. He is also vice president of the Saturday and Sunday Hospital Association. He was appointed on the State Board of Charities and Corrections by a republican governor and a trustee of the public library by a democratic mayor.

He has been professor of Hebrew at the University of Colorado since 1902, from which institution he received the Doctor of Laws degree in 1906.

In 1892, dissatisfied with the manner and methods of worship of the then existing orthodox congregations, H. Plonsky, who had established the first orthodox minyan in Denver in 187.7, founded Beth Ha Medrosh Hagodol Synagogue. With the aid of a few faithful supporters he rented a commodious room on Larimer, between Fourteenth and Fifteenth streets. Rabbi Heyman Saft, who happened to be in Denver at the time, was engaged, and the congregation soon gained in membership and influence. A religious school was established, the first orthodox one in the city, and did excellent work.

On December 15, 1897, Congregation Beth Ha Medrosh Hagodol was incorporated, and the property of old Temple Emanuel purchased for $4,500. Soon thereafter the erection of the synagogue was begun, and in 1898 it was formally dedicated.

In 1899 Rabbi R. Farber was engaged. He made many innovations, one of these being the confirmation of boys and girls, and labored with success for about two years, when dissensions arose and he resigned.

On February 16, 1902, fire again damaged the building and the synagogue had to be rebuilt. This was soon done, and in September of the same year it was rededicated and the holiday services observed therein.

At the same time Rabbi Charles Hillel Kauvar was engaged to fill the pulpit. He has served from that time to the present day ably and faithfully, and to the great satisfaction of his congregation.

There are today in Denver approximately twelve thousand Jews, most of them in what are termed orthodox congregations. Of these there were in existence in 1917 eleven distinct organizations. These are: Beth Ha Medrosh Hagodol, Rev. C. H. Kauvar. Rabbi, Twenty-fourth, corner Curtis Street; Congregation Agudas Achim, Idel Idelson, Rabbi, West Thirteenth Avenue, near Platte River; Congregation Chariot of Israel, D. Grinstein, president. Tenth, northeast corner Lawrence; Congregation Kasher Ahavo, Rev. Frank A. Weinberg, Rabbi. 1508 Clay Street: Congregation Keles Jacob, 2715 West Holden Place: Congregation Kneseth Israel, Rev. David Stein, Rabbi, Hooker, south-east corner West Conejos Place: Congregation Mogen David, Rev. Louis Klavans, Rabbi, West Fourteenth Avenue, near Platte River: Congregation Shomro Amunoh, H. Hayutin, Rabbi, west side Tenth, corner Lawrence Street: Congregation Zera Abraham, Rev. S. Halpern, Rabbi, 2781 W. Colfax Avenue: Ohavey Zedek Congregation, Twenty-eighth Avenue, southeast corner Downing Street: Tiphereth Israel, Dale Court, northwest corner West Colfax Avenue, Rev. A. Braude, Rabbi. 2748 N. Colfax Avenue.

Of these the oldest is Shearith Israel, which is the successor of Congregation Ahava Amunoh, organized in 1877. For some years the latter society worshipped in the synagogue at Fourteenth and Blake streets. In 1898 the building was given up and services held in a hall, and by 1903 the congregation had ceased to exist. A few of its members immediately organized Shearith Israel.

In August of that year, they purchased a building, corner of Tenth and Lawrence streets, and moved into it the following month, before the holy days.

Agudoth Achim was organized in 1892.

Zera Abraham was organized in 1887.

In the state there are now two strong congregations, one at Trinidad and one at Pueblo, with a smaller organization at Colorado Springs. There was also for a time a congregation at Leadville, but this has long since gone out of existence.

The history of the National Jewish Hospital for Consumptives dates back to that time when poor consumptives all over America began to flock to Denver.

The exhilarating effects of the climate had been widely advertised, and its curative properties were recommended by the medical profession.

The Jews of Denver were appealed to from the pulpit of Temple Emanuel to provide for the hundreds of stricken sufferers.

So numerous were the applicants for aid that it was soon found impossible to shelter and care for the impoverished victims of tuberculosis.

A building of substantial proportions was constructed, but after its completion it could not be maintained by the Jews of Denver.

The Independent Order of B’nai B’rith came to the rescue. At a meeting of the Grand Lodge, District No. 2, held in Louisville, Ky., May 18, 1898, it was decided to endorse the efforts of establishing a hospital for consumptives at Denver.

A provisional Board of Control was appointed, which secured as president of the institution Samuel Grabfelder. This fortunate choice gave new enthusiasm to the work, and Mr. Grabfelder still continues as an inspiration to the institution.

On December 10, 1899, the doors of the hospital were opened.

At the meeting of the Grand Lodge held in Chicago, April 29, 1900, the committee on charitable and educational institutions, in their report, stated as follows:

“We have also considered with care the existing and proposed relations between our Order and the National Jewish Hospital for Consumptives located at Denver, Colo.

“The hospital is not local, either to Denver, to the State of Colorado, or to any portion of the Union. It was not established to meet a local condition or to gratify local pride.

“We do not favor the proposal to convey the hospital to the Order and bring it under our exclusive dominion. This would not be good either for the hospital or the Order. But we do favor such a relation between the two as will give to the hospital the use of our organized machinery, our sanction and a substantial financial support.”

The B’nai B’rith therefore recommended that the hospital be incorporated under the laws of Colorado.

The B’nai B’rith also recommended, beginning with January 1, 1901, that the Constitution Grand Lodge shall pay a per capita contribution.

This convention requested that the B’nai B’rith be represented by one member from each of the seven districts.

The suggestions of the Constitution Grand Lodge were incorporated in the laws of the hospital, and the president of the Constitution Grand Lodge was made ex-officio a member of the board.

The subvention of the Constitution Grand Lodge was gradually increased to forty cents per capita.

Ever since the doors of the hospital were opened the presidents of the B’nai B’rith, Leo N. Levi, Simon Wolf, his successor, and the present incumbent, Adolph Kraus, have enthusiastically championed the life-saving work of the institution.

Without the encouragement and support of the Independent Order of B’nai B’rith, the National Jewish Hospital for Consumptives might never have be-come a reality.

From one building with a capacity of sixty beds, the hospital has now grown to ten buildings, with a capacity of one hundred and fifty.

There are the Guggenheim Pavilion, used exclusively for men, the gift of the Guggenheim Brothers; the Woman’s Pavilion, which was constructed from the contributions of Jews throughout the country; the Adolph Lewisohn Chapel, the gift of the well-known New York philanthropist; the Shoenberg Memorial, the gift of Mrs. Joseph E. Shoenberg, and Mrs. Herman August; the Grabfelder Medical Building, the gift of the president of the institution; the infirmary, the dining room, laundry, boiler house, superintendent’s bungalow.

Since the opening of the hospital 3,000 patients have been admitted, from all sections of the country. New York sends one-third and Chicago one-fifth. Three hundred patients are treated annually; the average stay in the hospital is seven months.

The patients are under the direction’ of the superintendent, Dr. Saling Simon, first and second assistant medical superintendent, the medical advisory board of five, eight nurses and a staff of thirty consulting physicians.

Ex-patients who remain in Denver may claim the treatment of the hospital’s externe, who averages fifty calls a month, and the visiting nurse, who, during the past year, paid 2,476 visits.

It is axiomatic that fresh air flooded with sunshine, good food, and life in the open are the specific for phthisis. The consumptive who has the opportunity of enjoying these requisites has by far the best chance to recover.

Three-fifths of the patients admitted to the hospital have been discharged as recovered, or with disease arrested; one-fifth were greatly improved, the remaining one-fifth having been cases that were far advanced, of which a number were discharged as unimproved, and some died in the hospital.

A suitable diet is essential in the treatment of tuberculosis. Food must be varied and appetizing. The weight charts show how carefully the matter of diet is considered.

The moral and mental condition of the patient is often as seriously involved as his physical state. The management of the National Jewish Hospital for Consumptives has stressed this part of its work.

While it has not been possible to persuade the patients to perform as much work as would perhaps be good for them, a number of the inmates are assisting in the work of the various departments of the hospital, such as helping in the laboratory, in the library, secretary’s office, dining room, diet kitchen and on the grounds. Their experience along these lines has been of great assistance in fitting them for good positions.

Many patients, who come to the hospital without knowledge, or with only limited familiarity with the English language, enjoy the opportunity in the Shoenberg Memorial Building to learn to read and write the vernacular. They eagerly accept the training they receive in the school. The class in English is supplemented by a domestic science department for women; a class in bookkeeping; a tailoring class, where men who understand only the rudiments of their trade are instructed in the more advanced lines of tailoring.

The library is the meeting place of the patients. It contains 1,500 volumes adapted to the needs of the patients. Here they read and write and play games of chess, checkers, dominoes, etc.

There is also an amusement room, where entertainments are held, and where moving pictures are exhibited weekly.

The social service work that is carried on in the Shoenberg Memorial Building is conducted without expense to the institution. Herman August has endowed this building.

Five years ago Louis D. Shoenberg gave to the hospital a farm in memory of his only son, Dudley C. Shoenberg. This farm supplies products for the health of the patients.

In 1814 Samuel Grabfelder built and thoroughly equipped the Grabfelder Medical Building. It includes examination rooms, laboratories, drug room, X-ray equipment, animal quarters for experimental purposes, and a medical library. This building adds one of the greatest units of efficiency to the hospital.

The reconstructed Infirmary Building was in 1916 dedicated as the William S. Friedman Building.

The Jewish Consumptives’ Relief Society, or J. C. R. S., as it is generally termed, is the outgrowth of an organization promoted by a little band of poor consumptives for the purpose of aiding one another in severe illness or distress. It did not take the projectors of this mutual aid society very long to find out their inability to carry out their program unaided by outsiders. A mass meeting was therefore arranged for December 12, 1904, to consider ways and means to help the numerous indigent consumptives who come to Colorado to regain their health.

While the project of the J. C. R. S. met with some opposition, as all under-takings will in their initial stages, the appeal in general was warmly received, and contributions began to come in. In a short time the trustees of the society felt sufficiently encouraged to purchase a twenty-acre tract of land on which to erect a sanatorium.

The site that was selected is located about a mile and a half from the city limits of Denver in the adjoining county of Jefferson. It is in the shadow of the foothills and commands a magnificent view of the Rocky Mountains. On this piece of ground a small frame building was erected at a cost of $300. This wooden shack, some time since converted to the baser use of a barn, originally served as office, library, medical room, dining room and kitchen. Around this executive structure eight tents were pitched. Thus was inaugurated the work of the Jewish Consumptives’ Relief Society.

The sanatorium was formally dedicated September 4, 1904, and opened for the reception of patients a few days later.

On January 1, 1918, the J. C. R. S. had expended $142,997.77 on buildings and equipment, the institution occupying fifty-seven acres. Its capacity was 150. Its income for 1917 was $174,284. Its total income from 1904 to 1917 was $1,091,537.63, practically all of which had been expended on building enlargements, and in the care of patients. It has its own dairy and farm. Its library to-day contains 4,000 volumes. Total cases admitted since 1904, 2,974.

Dr. Philip Hillkowitz is president of the society, and Dr. C. D. Spivak is secretary, positions which they have occupied continuously since the organization of the J. C. R. S.

The Denver Sheltering House for Jewish children was founded in 1909, its first officers being: President, Mrs. J. N. Lorber; vice presidents, Milton M. Schayer, Hermann Strauss, S. R. Zwetow; treasurer, Meyer Friedman; recording secretary, I. H. Mendelssohn. It now (1918) shelters forty children and owns a block of ground with two modern structures. Its principal officials in 1918 are: President, Mrs. J. N. Lorber: vice presidents, Mrs. B. Willens, Mrs. S. Friedenthal, Mrs. S. Francis; treasurer, Sig. Strauss; financial .secretary, Samuel Isaacson; secretary, Max S. Schayer.

History of Colorado

Source: History of Colorado, Wilbur Fisk Stone, Editor, Volume I, Chicago, The S. J. Clarke Publishing Company, 1918

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