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Prince Street Formative Years (1860-1911)

In 1860, twelve years after Congregation B’nai Jeshurun (CBJ) was founded in Newark, a group of CBJ members met in the home of Bernard Hauser, a former CBJ President. Their purpose was to form a new synagogue that would adhere to Orthodox practices. Rabbi Isaac Schwarz, first Rabbi of B’nai Jeshurun, was chosen to become the first Rabbi of Oheb Shalom – "Lovers of Peace". The name was selected in accordance with the tradition of those days that the name of a synagogue being formed from another should reflect that the leaving was not wrongful or caused by anger, but was to preserve shalom bayit, peace in the household. The congregation was founded on September 2, 1860 with its charter transmitted to the Essex County courts five weeks later. Dues were thirty-six cents per month.

Services were initially conducted in German and Hebrew in rented space on the top floor of a home on Prince Street between Springfield and South Orange Avenues. By 1864, the Congregation built a wooden synagogue structure on the west side of Prince Street a few doors away from the home. This building had a balcony for women, and men wore high silk hats during services. The Hebrew School, which had been in existence since the formation of the congregation, was taught by volunteer lay teachers who were required to be competent. The principal was a highly trained person who usually led prayer services.  In 1866 the congregation bought land on South Orange Avenue in Newark for use as a cemetery, which exists to this day.

The second rabbi of Oheb Shalom was Rabbi Ferdinand Leopold Sarner who served for a short time. A native of Germany, he was the first rabbi to be appointed by the United States Army to serve as a regimental chaplain. Rabbi Sarner was severely wounded at the Battle of Gettysburg. In the 1870s, Rabbi Tintner came to Oheb Shalom and initiated the idea of forming a women’s auxiliary, resulting in the founding of Miriam Frauen Verein (now Miriam Sisterhood) in 1880. 

With the arrival of Rabbi Bernard Drachman (1885-1888), who was born in America but received his rabbinical degree in Germany, English began to be used in the synagogue. He preached alternate weeks in German and English. Rabbi Drachman sought employment at Oheb because he wanted to serve American-born Jews who would respect his training and share his theology so that those of the second generation should follow traditional ritual and custom. The congregation saw in him a spiritual guide who integrated loyalty to Judaism with American mores.  

Under Rabbi Wolf Willner (1888-1890), English replaced German during services. However, Miriam Verein still conducted much of its business in German, and its president’s annual message was delivered in German until 1917.

In 1884, with a membership of one hundred, the congregation erected a new brick building directly across from its white frame structure on Prince Street. At the dedication ceremony on September 14, 1884, the Torah scrolls were carried across the street by three young women. The brick synagogue, which cost over $25,000 to construct, is now a registered state historic site and home to Greater Newark Conservancy’s urban environmental center. This is the second oldest structure — originally built as a synagogue and still standing in New Jersey — and among the 35 oldest in the USA.

In this new building, as men and women began to sit together, the congregation adopted English as its official language by using the Szold-Jastrow Prayer Book.  An organ was installed and used during services which were now led by a professional hazzan. The character of Oheb Shalom was changing. In 1890 Rabbi Bernard Gluck came to Oheb Shalom. During his tenure, the Prince Street building was expanded, property for another cemetery in Hillside was purchased, and the congregation continued to grow.

1906 was a turning point in the history of the congregation, with the arrival of Rabbi Charles I. Hoffman, a member of the first graduating class of the Jewish Theological Seminary of America, who was greatly influenced by his friend, teacher and mentor Solomon Schechter. Fearing that American Jewish youth would be “turned off” by Orthodox Judaism and turn to the Reform Movement, which they considered too radical, they sought a middle ground to build an American Judaism and conserve Hebraic tradition by refashioning ritual practice. At this time, the majority of the membership of the synagogue was American born and wanted to incorporate new styles, practices and rituals – “as Jewish as the Torah and as American as apple pie”. With the popularity of this view, the congregation grew and the Prince Street building was no longer suitable. 

High Street Era (1911-1958)