Turn of the Century

During the first half of the Congregation’s existence, it was composed almost wholly of one homogeneous element of Central European origin and interrelated by reason of intermarriage. After 1900, other elements begin to appear on the roster of the Congregation. The same forces that had driven Jews from Bavaria, Bohemia and Austria half a century and more before now brought new arrivals to Cumberland from Eastern Europe. The growing industrial importance of this part of the State, wedged in between two productive centers of the States of Pennsylvania and West Virginia, invited elements of the newer migration. To them, too, the newer pattern of religious services and the new decorum had a greater appeal than the older forms. And, of course, these new additions gave the Congregation greater numerical and financial strength which became evident in the number of changes and improvements during the incumbency of Rabbi Baron and his successors.

Except for the erection of a parsonage adjoining the Temple, up to the second half-century of the life of the Congregation very little had been done to the physical appearance of the building. An organ had been purchased in 1882, and in 1908 a new organ was installed. A pot-bellied heating stove graced the center of the vestry rooms, and around its doubtful warmth the young ones used to gather for their religious instruction and their German and Hebrew lessons. The auditorium on the second floor of the building with its massive gas chandelier and unattractive pews was not any more impressive. Nor did the stuffiness of the Jastrow Prayer Book, in common use at that period, soften in any way the drab colors of this somber picture. All in all, the Synagogue was ready for a thorough renovation.

During the incumbency of Rabbi Baron the modernization of the Synagogue building was started. The interior of the building was completely overhauled, the bimah was enlarged, the vestry room floor was lowered, and attractive Sunday School rooms were set up with a small platform or stage in the assembly hall for plays by the children. The auditorium upstairs was tastefully redecorated. New electric light fixtures were installed, and new modern pews replaced the original ones. A modern pipe organ was donated in 1924 in memory of Mr. And Mrs. Samuel Rosenthal.

The Congregation joined the Union of American Hebrew Congregations on April 12, 1905, and the services were modernized. The Jastrow ritual was replaced in 1907 by the Union Prayer Book.

The original constitution and by-laws were replaced by new ones in 1896. There is no record of the original, so that the reason for the change is not known. Revisions were made in 1906 and 1919, followed by a complete revision in 1924. Three main purposes were responsible for the 1924 revisions. Women were given complete membership privileges. Up to this time, there had been a system of members and seat holders. All were entitled to attend services and take part in all congregational functions, but only members could vote. This archaic system was eliminated. Under the new constitution and by-laws an attempt was made to set up a more efficient operation. Standing committees of Membership, Finance, Temple Attendance, Activity, Director of Cemetery, Property and the Choir Chairman were provided for, and the Board of Trustees was enlarged to include the officers and the chairman of each committee. With the exception of one change in 1940, this continued until 1949, when the constitution and by-laws were again revised to provide for the election of the usual officers plus five trustees.

The early 1920s brought a new era of religious life and social activities. The resurgence that followed was due to many causes. All of the young men then available had served in World War I, and had returned eager to take an active part in Congregational affairs. This spirit, permeating the entire atmosphere, was absorbed by the older members who experienced a psychological rebound from the lack of activities during the War and the period immediately following. Temple facilities were enlarged. Temple attendance again became active. The former parsonage, which had fallen into disuse and had been rented for a short period to the school board, was converted into a nicely appointed Temple House, and its opening was made the occasion of a 71st anniversary party. Each Sunday evening saw some activity. Nor was change in form and ritual neglected. As one example, the introductory part of the Amidah which for years had been recited by the Congregation in Hebrew had by now become meaningless and was eliminated from the service. Yet this intense, almost feverish, period was fraught  with danger, for a schism developed within the Congregation which resulted in considerable bitterness and was not healed until some years later; but when healed resulted in a more unified and compact group.