In 1850, forty-seven German-speaking families formed Cleveland’s first Reform synagogue, which they named Tifereth Israel. In 1855, under the leadership of their first rabbi, Isadore Kalisch, the small group moved out of rented quarters to the newly constructed Huron Road temple. The congregation remained on Huron Road until 1894 when, having increased in numbers they moved into an elegant temple on East 55th and Central, during the rabbinate of Rabbi Aaron Hahn (1877-1892).
By the time of Rabbi Moses Gries, Hahn’s successor, the congregation no longer separated men and women in the sanctuary, an organ and a choir participated at services, and the congregation used an English language prayer book. Many Orthodox traditions and rituals were abandoned and, by 1894, Hebrew was no longer part of the Sunday School curriculum. During the 25 years of Moses Gries’s tenure (1892-1917), Tifereth Israel, often called “The Temple,” became a major congregation in what was then described as Classical Reform.
When Rabbi Gries retired because of ill health, Rabbi Abba Hillel Silver began his astonishingly fruitful 46 years as leader of The Temple (1917-1963). During his years, though certainly considered a beacon of Reform Judaism, the congregation reversed its movement towards what Rabbi Silver called a “watered-down religion.” An example of the reversal was the reinstitution of Hebrew classes in the Religious School and Rabbi Silver’s leadership of American Zionism.
From 1917 until Rabbi Abba Hillel Silver’s unexpected death in 1963, The Temple (often called Silver’s Temple) grew to over 2000 families as members. The congregation built a new facility on Ansel Road and East 105th Street in 1924. Listed in 1974 in the National Registry of Historic Places, this splendid building with a golden tiled dome dominates the landscape on the rim of University Circle.
Rabbi Daniel Jeremy Silver followed his father as senior rabbi and maintained that position until his premature death in 1989.In 1971, the congregation built a branch on Shaker Boulevard in Beachwood to be used for the Religious School. However, for a variety of legitimate and compelling reasons, and after several additions of new wings, the facility began to be used more and more and came to be known as The Temple, Beachwood. In the 1990’s, a large new library, meeting room and archive was added, a substantial gift from the Lee Hartzmark family.
In 1990, Rabbi Benjamin A. Kamin, who had joined The Temple in 1985 as Associate Rabbi, became senior rabbi of The Temple – Tifereth Israel, serving in that position through January 2000. Since the early 1990’s, The Temple, University Circle area is used for High Holy Day services, major congregational and Jewish community occasions, and life cycle events such as weddings, b’nai mitzvah ceremonies, and funerals. In 1999, Shabbat Eve Services moved from the Chapel The Temple, University Circle, to the Lee and Delores Hartzmark Room at The Temple, Beachwood. Cantor Kathryn Wolfe Sebo joined the Temple clergy team at the same time. The Temple, University Circle, is the home of the Temple Museum of Religious Art, which was founded in 1950 to celebrate the congregation’s centennial. It is one of the world’s leading synagogue-based museums.,
Since May 1, 2001, Tifereth Israel has been led by Rabbi Richard A. Block. Rabbi Block is only the 11th senior rabbi in the congregation’s 155 year history. Rabbi Block has emphasized developing the congregation as a community of learning, spiritual growth, and mutual interdependence. Under his leadership, creative programs have brought renewed vitality to The Temple. These include: Shabbaton, a family learning alternative to Sunday religious school; Rock My Soul Shabbat, an innovative, participatory, musical worship experience for people of all ages; and Tot Shabbat, a weekly drop-in activity for toddlers, parents, and grandparents. Ganon Gil, a respected, formerly independent pre-school that recently celebrated its 50th birthday has become part of The Temple, broadening and deepening the range of its programmatic offerings.
The Maltz Museum of Jewish Heritage, in which The Temple is a major partner, promises to be an important religious, cultural, and educational venue for the congregation, the community, and the entire region. Located adjacent to The Temple, Beachwood, on the congregation’s property, the Maltz Museum includes a gallery presenting treasures from the collection of The Temple Museum of Religious Art, a newly created exhibition on the history of the Jewish community of Cleveland, and a gallery for visiting exhibitions.
The Temple has also embarked on a groundbreaking multi-year project to reimagine the synagogue as a Jewish learning community for young people and families. In partnership with the Jewish Education Center of Cleveland and Siegal College of Judaic Studies, The Temple is creating new paradigms of Jewish learning to excite and engage learners by responding to their interests and needs in innovative ways. The results of this process will enrich the lives of our congregants and, we hope, inspire other congregations in Cleveland and elsewhere to embark on similar journeys.
At once historic and contemporary, The Temple-Tifereth Israel continues to add new chapters and dimensions to its rich heritage of service and leadership.