Beth Jacob Synagogue

On November 27, 1913, a meeting was held in the Cumberland office of L. Morris, 8 North Liberty Street, for the purpose of planning for an Orthodox congregation. It was named “Beth Jacob Anseh Hebrew Orthodox Congregation.” Since there was no edifice in which to worship, the homes of different persons were used for services, and on the High Holy Days, halls were rented. Torahs were kept in homes and then taken to the places used for worship. Some of the locations used for Rosh Hashonah and Yom Kippur were the third floor of the Odd Fellows Building on South Mechanic Street, the Morehead Building on North Mechanic Street and Miller’s Hall on North Centre Street across from City Hall. Children went to the Rabbi’s home for instruction.

On September 15, 1920, the lots at 256-258 North Centre Street were purchased; on October 10, 1921, a large bazaar was held to raise funds; and on May 24, 1924, the cornerstone was laid, with the name Beth Jacob chosen. Rabbi Morris Baron presided and addresses were given by Mayor Thomas W. Koon; Rev. Martin L. Enders, of St. Paul’s Lutheran Church; Rabbi Adolph Coblentz, of Baltimore; Tasker Lowndes, and Col. Thomas Pownall. A reception was held at the Odd Fellows Hall with the B&O Railroad Band providing music.

The first officers of Beth Jacob were Samuel Yankelevitz, President; Jacob Keister, Vice President; Abe Wolfe, Myer Sigel, Oscar Feldstein, and Sam Schwartz, trustees. Among the original members were Harry Margolis, Louis Kline, Morris Kline, Benjamin Waingold, Benjamin Levin, Ben Miller, Oscar Marcus, Michael Gerson, Charles Waingold, Nathan Stiffman and Isaac Gerson. As an orthodox congregation, the congregations required the services of a mikvah.  Members recall that the mikvah was in the home of Michael Gerson, and was little more than a well in the floor of the kitchen, covered by a trap door.

In 1949, the congregation was changed from Orthodox to Conservative. During the 1950’s the congregation experienced growth and began to outgrow its facility and began searching for a new home. (In the picture below, members of the Beth Jacob Board of Directors burn the mortgage for the Centre Street Building.) In 1960, the Centre Street building was sold to TWUA Local (Celanese), and the St. Luke’s Lutheran church at 11 Columbia Street was purchased. A Rabbi’s home was built next door shortly after this purchase.

The building required little alteration, except for the addition of Jewish symbols to some of the stained glass windows, and the erection of a Torah ark in the contemporary style of the day. The building was quite large, with a balcony encircling the sanctuary upstairs and a very large kitchen and vestry in the lower level. (Photo the right is looking at the synagogue fronting on Columbia Street.) The vestry had a large stage area, and in yet another lower level, there was even a small basketball court. Many religious school rooms were found on the upper floors, along with a small chapel. However, as years passed the building became too large for the dwindling congregation, and in 1989 the congregation sold its building, retaining the small chapel for regular services. At that time, some ceremonial items and historical memorabilia were donated to the Jewish Historical Society of Maryland. Beth Jacob donated their ark to Beth Shalom Congregation, in Columbia, Maryland. For many years the Cumberland Theatre used chairs from the Sanctuary as audience seating.

During the late 1980s and early 1990s there were efforts by members from Beth Jacob and B’er Chayim Congregations to discuss a merger. Despite best efforts, there was usually something on which agreement could not be reached and the discussion was dropped. In 1998, merger discussions reached a successful conclusion, and in January of 1999, a single congregation emerged, with the assets of Beth Jacob being mingled with those of B’er Chayim.