Temple Sinai

Founded in 1870, Temple Sinai is the oldest and biggest Reform congregation in Louisiana. Its long history includes an important tradition to provide quality Jewish programming in the community. Temple Sinai tries to develop successful programs in history, language, music, theology, and other aspects. Temple Sinai believes it is necessary to fit in and make contributions to its surrounding. It has several active affiliates: Sisterhood, Brotherhood, Youth Group, and Older Adults Havurah (Our Heritage Temple Sinai, http://www.templesinaino.org/heritage.htm) This temple is located on St. Charles Ave, which is a famous and beautiful avenue in New Orleans (The New Orleans Community Temple Sinai, http://www.templesinaino.org/community.htm).

The Foundation of Temple Sinai

From the conception of the idea of “reform” in October of 1864, it took until September of 1869 before a new Congregation based on reform principles could be born. By 1870 the Reform movement under the inspired leadership of Issac M. Wise was sweeping Jewish communities throughout the United States. New Orleans was not to be denied. On July 3rd, 1870, 37 men met at the office of S.A. Seeskind to organize Temple Sinai. As the movement became a reality, there was work to be done. As a result, the first Officers and Trustees were elected. Michael Frank was president and Julius Weis and Lewis Alcus were vice presidents. In order to increase the membership, the “institute ritual reform and build a house”€ for this group, the pioneers of Reform Judaism in New Orleans accelerated the procedures to raise funds. Finally, Mr. Charles Lewis Hilger was selected as the architect and Peter R. Middlemiss was chosen to erect the structure. The total cost was 140,000 dollars, which seems to be much cheaper nowadays. In 1871 approximately 5,100 people assembled to witness the dedication of the cornerstone for Temple Sinai’s magnificent edifice. Nearly one year later, the building was dedicated on November 13, 1872. Soon after, Carondelet Street Temple became a New Orleans landmark (Temple Sinai (New Orleans, La.). “Our first hundred years”€. New Orleans, Temple Sinai, 1970).


Early in 1872, James K. Gutheim was elected Rabbi and I. L. Leucht was elected reader. Since this was a Reform movement, ritual changes were necessary and the service used at Temple Emanuel was decided upon and adopted.

Rabbi Heller’s predecessor, Rabbi Gutheim, had made an indelible mark on New Orleans. He served on the Board of Education, helped with the then fledgling Hebrew Union College, worked for the Jewish Children’s Home, and many other activities. Upon his death, he was honored by public officials, leaders of all faiths, and peoples of all ranks. None honored his memory more vigorously than the man to immediately succeed him, Rabbi Max Heller. During his tenure, the Congregation expanded to a membership of nearly 500. It was during Dr. Heller’s term as Rabbi that the Union of American Hebrew Congregation was organized. Temple Sinai participated in its formation and adopted its ritual. Religious education was one of Dr. Heller’s prime interest (Temple Sinai).

Rabbis from 1872 to 1970:
Rabbi James Gutheim (1872-1886)
Dr. Max Heller (1887-1929)
Dr. Louis Binstock (1926-1936)
Dr. Julian B. Feibelman (1936-1967)
Dr. Roy A. Rosenberg (1967-1970)
Rabbi Murray Blackman (1970) (Temple Sinai).
The current Rabbi is Rabbi Edward Paul Cohn (Rabbi and Cantor Temple Sinai, http://www.templesinaino.org/rabbi.htm).

The New Temple

The Temple as it stands today. Photo by John Perry via Flickr, reproduced here under the Creative Commons.

The Jubilee year was 1922, a “50 year celebration” not measured, however, from the first organization of Temple Sinai, but apparently from commencement of worship in the Carondelet Street building. By this time there were rumblings for more expansion. A new Temple building was proposed by Rabbi Heller. This challenge was promptly met. The new Temple was dedicated, thus signaling a new phase of growth. But there was more to come. The 1928 structure was later enlarged, and during the 1950’s the St. Charles Avenue building was erected after a very limited capital fund drive, which also provided the funds for the air-conditioning of the Temple sanctuary itself.

Now, even that addition is outmoded, and as time moves on so does the need for continued physical expansion. This brings us to the present and fourth phase of growth in Temple Sinai’s history. Along with the new Temple came a new Rabbi. Rabbi Louis Binstock came to Sinai during the last years on Carondelet Street and was most instrumental in working for our new building. After it was a reality, he served for almost ten years as its Rabbi helping to create the image of Sinai as we know it today (Temple Sinai).

Temple Sinai in Community

Temple Sinai had taken its place in the religious community—- with growth and expansion—- with levity and frivolity—— with spiritual and ecumenical activities. Temple Sinai believed that it is important to keep in touch with community. Starting in 1893, “Temple Sinai was used for the continuation of services by St. Paul’s Church”. Dr. Ralph Bunche was invited by former United Nations mediator for Palestine to speak at Temple Sinai, which made Temple Sinai Congregation into a position of national renown.
Also with Patrick Cardinal Cody at his installation as Archbishop of Chicago in 1965 were the Right Reverend Silas, Greek Orthodox Titular Bishop of New Orleans, Egidio Cardinal Vagnozzi, the Papal representative, Mayor Schiro, and Rabbi Feibelman (Temple Sinai).

Temple Sinai Book Fair

In 2005 spring, Temple Sinai held a book fair. Before this book fair, the staff posted an advertisement. It said the temple was collecting new and used books, video cassettes, DVDs, audiotapes, and CDs. The purpose of this book fair was to “go to Temple Sinai’s charitable efforts and to Potter’s House, a tempo-rary shelter for children and women” (American Press (Lake Charles, LA) – Sunday, November 28, 2004). Fiction, nonfiction, history, biography, children’s books, and tapes will be sold.

Items were donated by congregation members and by their friends and neighbors. Part of the proceeds will be given to Samaritan Counseling Center. Author Lavelle J. Lemonier, of Beaumont, Texas, has won two awards for his recently-published romance novel entitled “Southerland Strength”  (American Press (Lake Charles, LA) – Sunday, April 25, 2004).

The Ulster Project – Catholics, Protestants, Jews, Irish, Americans find common ground at local synagogue

Rabbi Charles Isbell greeted the Ulster Project group at the synagogue doors of Temple Sinai as the teenagers poured in for a tour on July 18. Each year, Ulster groups come together in the United States to promote peace and tolerance in hopes of countering the prejudice that segregates Catholics and Protestants in Northern Ireland. For the first time, the group visited a Jewish house of worship – and found another area of common ground.

Unable to distinguish the Irish from the Americans, the rabbi asked the Irish teens to raise their hands. Once their hands were down again, Isbell nodded, saying how much his physical features would have to change in order to disappear in the crowd as the Irish teenagers did simply by lowering their hands. Protestants are considered by some to be “foreigners, loyal to their British roots,” though their families may have lived there for centuries.

A preacher from Northern Ireland came to the United States in 1978 and noticed how races and religions got along peacefully despite their differences. He formed the Ulster project to bring teens from Northern Ireland to the United States to spend time forming relationships with one another. Forty years later, teens make lifelong friendships through more than 25 Ulster Projects across the country.

“It was his hope that through that beginning those kids who were in the project would grow up and see Catholics and Protestants in different light than what their parents and their grandparents had,” South said.

“I don’t really feel there is a big difference,” said Adam McQuade, 15, as he tried to explain the difference between Catholics and Protestants.

“People are integrating, expanding into a new culture.”

The others agreed. “There used to be a lot of troubles between Protestants and Catholics. People don’t really care anymore,” said Roisin O’Doherty, 14. “People have moved on and forgot about things.”

Robin Semple, retreat coordinator for the SWLA Ulster Project, said “the troubles” the Irish students refer to is the violence that long existed in the conflict between Catholics and Protestants. Most of the students were young children during the 1998 Omagh bombing in which 29 people died and 220 were injured.

“Thursday, they built churches,” he said. “I put a whole bunch of materials out on the table and told them they were on a spaceship. :When they got to this other planet they wouldn’t have any memory of their religious life here in this world. They would have to build the church from scratch.”

The teens were paired into eight groups, host and guest, and built model churches that were more about fun rather than politics, Semple said. Steven Hall, 15, of Omagh said, “When I first got here I didn’t think I’d make many friends, but at the retreat we got close to each other, and it changed my perspective.” His friendly teasing inspired chuckles from the group. He proceeded to show them around the synagogue pointing out commonalities between the Jewish and Christian peoples and faiths (American Press (Lake Charles, LA) – Saturday, July 26, 2008. Author: TAKISHA KNIGHT< AMERICAN PRESS).

Temple Sinai Auxiliaries

Temple Sinai Sisterhood

In May of 1900, there was a motion by Mr. Felix J. Dreyfous that the President be authorized to appoint 15 ladies to serve as an auxiliary association to take charge of the furnishing and maintenance of the building.

Since then, the Sisterhood became a critical member of this Congregation. They have always responded enthusiastically and resourcefully whenever the need arose.

The major activities of the Sisterhood were holding activities and parties at religious school, servicing of receptions and family night, blessing of Sabbath candles, ushering for Saturday services, projects for the disabled, raising money by selling flowers and selling aprons and so on.

Temple Sinai Brotherhood

The Brotherhood was officially formed in 1946 and its main purpose was to serve as a lay arm of the Temple. Their main activities were conducting adult education groups, sponsoring lectures, holding retreats the work and dedication of Religious School teachers appropriately. Temple Sinai Brotherhood has exceeded its responsibilities in supporting the National Brotherhood’s Jewish Chautauqua Society, whose purpose it is to enlighten others about Judaism at the college and summer camp level (Temple Sinai).


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