Rabbi Solomon Goldman and Synagogue Life

Article excerpt

PART OF THE LEGACY OF RABBI SOLOMON GOLDMAN (1893-1953) is his correspondence. It is without question the finest repository available of detailed and impassioned discussions of the Zionist Movement, synagogue life, the growth and tensions of the Conservative Movement in Judaism, as well as Jewish communal challenges, strategic planning, policy discussions and theological concerns. He wrote about all this during the dark and frightening years of World War II, when American Jews, like their fellow citizens of all races and creeds, faced seemingly endless world conflict and uncertainty, with the added awareness that Congress was at best ambivalent about Jewish concerns, and that European Jewry was in desperate straits, the full horrors of which were only slowly being revealed to a Jewish community and a world unable even to recognize such unspeakable evil. (1)

There is one full-length biography of Goldman by his colleague, Rabbi Jacob J. Weinstein, (2) a Reform rabbi in another Chicago neighborhood who himself has been the subject of a biography. (3) Weinstein's narrative also offers a well-selected sampling of Goldman's writings and correspondences. He certainly recognized and noted one of the most touching letters, namely, Rabbi David Aronson's recollection of the rare bond of mutual adoration and respect that Goldman shared with his wife, Alice, and that was apparent during their courtship and throughout the years. (4) Weinstein also noted that Goldman was ever a man of action, (5) though some of his best actions were in fact the committing into writing of his thoughts and insights. The biography does a great service in noting the letters of encouragement and financial stipends that Goldman sent to countless struggling Jewish authors, scholars, historians, journalists, and sociologists.

I read Goldman's correspondence at the American Jewish Archives in Cincinnati and discovered that some letters were written in Hebrew, Yiddish, and German. In some of the letters that I found, Goldman said that, for several years he provided over $8,000 a year through his discretionary fund to Jewish authors and scholars. He engaged special typists for the Hebrew and Yiddish letters, which he dictated in fine style. Goldman would invite Hebrew and Yiddish poets to Anshe Emet's late Friday night services, arranging receptions to familiarize the community with these writers' work and to impress upon congregants and visitors the need to support it. (6) Just as important are Goldman's writings about the synagogue--his own congregation, the Anshe Emet Synagogue in Chicago, which he served from 1929 until his death in 1953, and his observations on the potential of the institution of the synagogue, to improve and to represent Jewish life locally and nationally.

The Anshe Emet Synagogue

In 1929 Rabbi Solomon Goldman accepted the pulpit of a struggling Anshe Emet Congregation in Chicago after a distinguished and productive first pulpit in Cleveland at what is now Park Synagogue. (7) The Cleveland years were not without turbulence and conflict, including what Goldman's biographer, Rabbi Jacob Weinstein, calls the "first actual heresy trial of a rabbi held in an American court" (8) that occurred when certain changes in the ritual, such as the introduction of a late Friday night service, were opposed by a small group of dissidents. In Cleveland, Goldman also broke with his erstwhile friend and fellow Zionist leader, Abba Hillel Silver, who led the large Reform temple in the community. (9) Goldman saw such possibilities at Anshe Emet that he assumed his post at the height of the Depression and was willing to suffer financial disabilities for years afterward. (10) Goldman quickly built up Anshe Emet into the largest and best-staffed Conservative congregation in Chicago. After World War II he established the first Conservative day school at Anshe Emet. (11)

Goldman appreciated Anshe Emet, as the letters testify. …