Merger Creates Congregation Beth Jacob Galveston
We Celebrate Our 85th
5691 - 5776
Although we ascribe the founding of the Congregation to February 15, 1931 the history of Congregation Beth Jacob really begins in 1888. In that year, the board minutes of Temple B’nai Israel mention that a group of “Russian Israelites” requested the loan of a Torah Scroll in order to hold their own services. Seven young Russian immigrant men had organized as the Young Men’s Hebrew Association and began conducting services in a room on the second floor of a downtown commercial building.
Around the same time, a group of Jewish immigrants from the Austro-Hungarian Empire arrived in Galveston. Though the Russian Orthodox Jews and the Austro-Hungarian Orthodox Jews shared a common religion, there were substantial differences in their cultures and their worship traditions. The two groups briefly worshipped together, but the union did not last. The Austro-Hungarian Jews broke away and became the Hebrew Benevolent Congregation (later called the Hebrew Orthodox Benevolent Association). They conducted services in a house at 24th and K. In 1903 the Young Men’s Hebrew Association built its own house of worship. The synagogue, located on Sealy between 26th and 27th, was in use until 1931.
In the late 1920’s, The Great Depression pushed the U.S. and the industrialized world into financial chaos. It became apparent that operating two separate Orthodox synagogues in Galveston was difficult and expensive. Unable to afford a full-time rabbi, both groups often relied on laymen leadership. For the Island Orthodox community to survive during this time they needed to unite. There were several attempts to combine the two synagogues. However, neither group was willing to compromise.
Finally, on Feb 15, 1931, an agreement was reached and the members of the two congregations voted “yes” on the issue of unification. The congregations lead by Max Baum, of the Young Men’s Hebrew Association and Sol Reichstein, of the Hebrew Benevolent Congregation, along with the leadership of their respective synagogues, were responsible for this success. They had chosen to set aside their differences and forge a new and stronger congregation serving not only the Jewish Orthodox community, but the general community. Congregation Beth Jacob was created and bringing together the Torah scrolls solidified their action.
Rabbi Louis Feigon, a recent Yeshiva graduate and emigre from Poland, was hired as the Congregation’s first spiritual leader. Rabbi Feigon immediately began a fundraising effort. In the midst of the Great Depression, the combined membership was able to raise $40,000 to build a new brick synagogue at the corner of 24th and K. Construction began in 1931. On January 24, 1932, the cornerstone for the new synagogue was laid. Congregation Beth Jacob, The Shul, was dedicated on Sunday, April 10, 1932.