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Past Spiritual Leaders
Edward Meinhardt 2009- 2013
In 1853, a small group of Jewish émigrés from Poland decided to form their own congregation that followed Eastern European ritual rather than the German liberal approach of Newark's Temple B'nai Jeshurun. This budding congregation met in the home of Abraham Newman, a founder and a member of B'nai Jeshurun, until a hall could be rented at 107 Market Street, Newark. By 1855 they acquired land for a cemetery and were incorporated under New Jersey law as "Congregation of the Sons of Abraham—B'nai Abraham," in honor of benefactor Abraham Newman and in recognition of Biblical tradition's first Jew.
In 1861, the congregation purchased a former Baptist Church at the corner of Halsey and Academy Streets. In 1870, the Temple members built a synagogue on Bank Street, only to lose it in a mortgage foreclosure. Moving into rented space on Market Street until 1884, the congregation then leased larger quarters in a two- story Washington Street building, only 25 feet wide and 75 feet deep. The cornerstone of a new synagogue, with a seating capacity of 900 at High Street and 13th Avenue, was set in 1897. In 1924, the congregants dug deep into their pockets to raise the huge sum of $I,250,000 to build their last Newark home, the magnificent edifice at Clinton and Shanley Avenues.
Rabbi Julius Silberfeld became the rabbi of Temple B'nai Abraham in 1902. Retaining the Orthodox ritual, which had been followed from 1853, he edited a new prayer book, adding English translations. In 1939, Rabbi Silberfeld retired and was succeeded by Dr. Joachim Prinz, who modernized the ritual and introduced his own prayer book.
In 1973, the congregation moved into its newly-built home in Livingston. Dr. Prinz retired in 1976, and Rabbi Barry Friedman, who came to the Temple in 1968 as Associate Rabbi, became Senior Rabbi in 1977. Rabbi Friedman introduced further innovations in the services and wrote and edited the prayer book Siddur Or Chadash. He retired in 1999, having served the congregation as rabbi for thirty-one years. In 1999, Rabbi Clifford Kulwin became the synagogue’s fourth religious leader in 98 years.
For much of the 20th Century, Temple B'nai Abraham identified itself as a traditional progressive congregation, independent of the organized synagogue movements. Now one of the largest Jewish congregational families in New Jerseyand growing, it carries that description into a new century with respect for tradition, relevance to time and place, creativity, musicality and a commitment to providing a focal point for living and learning Jewishly.