History tells us that in 1838, Judah Nusbaum from Mittelsin, Germany, was the first Jew to arrive in Columbus, which was then a community of 6,000. He wrote letters home to his Bavarian village in glowing terms about Columbus, and his relatives liked what they read and followed him. Among them was Nathan Gundersheimer. By 1846, eleven families united in forming a congregation, which they named Bene Jeshuren. Simon Lazarus, a merchant clothier, served as their rabbi, without pay. The congregation’s first meeting place was in an upstairs room in the Lazarus’ clothing store. The congregation met for worship in homes and rented halls along South High Street.
The first documented Jewish wedding took place at Bene Jeshuren on July 9, 1849.
During the spring of 1870, Bene Jeshuren was dissolved and a new congregation, B’nai Israel, took its place. It was decided to erect a building on the corner of Friend and Third Streets. The lot was purchased for $5,000, pledged by 21of the 35 member families. Funds for construction came from Columbus and other parts of the nation. On May 15, 1870, the cornerstone of the building was laid with Masonic ceremonies before several thousand people. The keynote address was given by Rabbi Isaac Mayer Wise. It was decided that the new congregation would conduct its services in English instead of Hebrew, as it had previously done.
By 1903, the congregation had grown to 100 families, and the cornerstone for the new Temple, now known as Temple Israel, was laid on July 19, 1903 on Bryden Road. The lot had been purchased a year earlier for $6,300. The cost for constructing the new building was $40,587.
In 1930, Joseph Schoenthal died, having served 26 years as president of the congregation. He was succeeded by Leon J. Goodman. In 1937, an historic meeting of the Central Conference of American Rabbis was held in Columbus. Temple Israel extended hospitality. At this meeting, the Columbus Platform, a guide to Reform philosophy, was adopted.
In 1947, Rabbi Jerome D. Folkman was called to the Temple Israel pulpit. By 1950, membership exceeded 750 families. The first girl to celebrate becoming a Bat Mitzvah did so that year at Temple Israel.
In 1954, the need for a larger building was recognized by the congregation. Ground was broken for the present building in July 1958, the property having been a gift from Jack and Eleanor Resler. The new building at 5419 E. Broad Street was dedicated in December 1959. In the first months following the dedication, several thousand Columbus citizens toured the award-winning facility.
In 1976, the Union Prayer Book was replaced withGates of Prayer. A gender-neutral edition was introduced in 1996 and is now being replaced by a new prayerbook Mishkan Tefillah.
In 1980 the congregation’s first cantor was engaged and the music program expanded. Between 1970 and 1990, the congregation’s social justice program grew as well, and outreach to the community and awareness of social issues marked many of Temple Israel’s activities.
In 1996, a Renaissance Campaign was announced for the complete renovation of Temple Israel with the dedication occurring in September 2000. The new facility boasts a 59,000+ square feet that includes a state-of-the-art Learning Center, classrooms, preschool, Social Halls, remodeled Sanctuary, and chapel, containing the bimah, stained glass windows, eternal light and sconces from theBryden Road Temple.
Temple Israel continues to renew itself based on the firm foundation laid over 160 + years ago.