Temple Israel

This profile was last updated in 2006

This profile was prepared by student researchers Geoffrey Hall and Nicholaus Pumphrey of Valdosta State University, under the direction of Dr. Richard Amesbury.

Introduction

Temple Israel is one of only a few synagogues left in the southeastern United States (excluding Florida). Nestled between three much larger Jewish communities — Atlanta, Savannah, and New Orleans — Temple Israel serves much of the Jewish community in Southern Georgia. Jewish families scattered throughout small towns in the region look towards this synagogue in order to observe holidays. Temple Israel may be unique in that while the congregation is comprised mainly of Conservative and Reform Jews, the rabbi himself was trained in the Orthodox tradition. This has not posed any major problems, however, and only seems to help strengthen the community at large.

History

Though Valdosta has seen Jewish immigrants and settlers since 1841, it was not until the early twentieth century that a Jewish community was formally established. Until then religious services had taken place in individual homes and rented rooms. Although the first actual religious service was held in 1894 on Yom Kippur, it would not be until November 30, 1908, at the house of Nathan Golivesky, that the local Jewish congregation was formally organized. With a Torah en route, the new congregation struggled to found a synagogue of its own. Attempts to buy a local Episcopal Church failed, and the Jews of Valdosta were left without a synagogue for another twelve years. Finally, the entire community threw its weight behind several fundraising ideas, and in 1919 construction began on the first Temple Israel. The building itself was dedicated on Rosh Hashanah in 1920 with forty-three families making up the congregation. Temple Israel has maintained an active presence in the Valdosta community. The original Temple Israel was the staple of the Jewish community for almost forty years until the new and current Temple Israel was built in 1960. It should be noted that throughout the history of the Jewish community in Valdosta, women have been its foundation. Jewish women raised enough money for the first synagogue to be built, and it was Annie Lazarus who organized the Women’s Auxiliary in order to maintain the synagogue and its grounds. As the Auxiliary grew it took over responsibility for the Sunday school, charitable functions, and overseeing religious celebration, and once the synagogue bought land in the local cemetery the Women’s Auxiliary looked after the cemetery until the congregation could establish funds for continuous care. Contemporary members of the congregation recall that there was a debate when the synagogue was first built over the place and role of women. Because the synagogue was built in accordance with the Orthodox Jewish tradition, there was a separate section (a balcony) where the women were to sit apart from the men. However, it became clear once the synagogue was built that the women, who had helped to raise a majority of the funds, should be allowed to sit down in the sanctuary itself alongside their husbands. Following the bold example of Annie Lazarus, the women of Temple Israel never used the balcony that was intended for them and instead took their places next to their husbands. Temple Israel now enjoys its largest congregation to date, spanning almost sixty-five families. It has also become one of the few places to which families in smaller surrounding towns can come to attend holy days and participate in the larger Jewish community. Like any other congregation, Temple Israel has seen families come and go for various reasons. However, even as the Southern United States is experiencing a decline in its Jewish population, Temple Israel has maintained a strong, even if sometimes small, community.

Activities and Schedule

Liturgy is performed on the Sabbath (7:30 p.m. Friday and 10:30 a.m. Saturday). Due to the size of the local Jewish community, all holidays are observed as well on their appropriate dates. One of the synagogue’s most popular community events is an annual corned beef sandwich sale, which draws thousands of people throughout the community to raise funds for Temple Israel. In preparation for the event, the synagogue orders thousands of pounds of kosher corned beef from New York City. Volunteers from the community sell tickets and make and serve the sandwiches.

The synagogue enjoys close ties with the surrounding Christian churches, as well as the Valdosta Muslim Cultural Center.