From a Straw Hat to Anshe Sholom (1870 - turn of the century)
Anshe Sholom B'nai Israel Congregation began its service to Chicago's Jewish community with a fight over a hat.
One hot day in the summer of 1870, Duber (Dov Ber) Ginsburg, an immigrant from Mariampol, Lithuania, appeared for services at the Bais Medrash Hagodol synagogue wearing a straw hat, but the leaders of the shul took exception to its frivolity, and threw him out. Offended, Mr. Ginsburg assembled a minyan from his old-country friends, and founded a competing shul called Ohave Sholom Mariampol, at Polk and Dearborn Streets.
Little more than a year later, the Great Chicago Fire drove many homeless Jews into their neighborhood, and membership grew rapidly. In 1892, the congregation merged with the Anshe Kalvarier shul, whose building had been demolished when 12th Street (now Roosevelt Road) was widened. The combined shuls adopted the name, "Anshe Sholom Congregation".
In 1894, Anshe Sholom retained the first of our great Rabbis, Abraham Samuel Braude zt'l, who served until his death in 1907, and the shul took its place in the top rank of Chicago Jewry. All the same, it was long known informally as "the Mariampoler Shul" and also, truth be told, "The Straw Hat Shul."
Move to the West Side (1910 – 1930)
In 1910, two great events occurred: the congregation brought Rabbi Saul Silber zt'l to Chicago and moved west into a new shul building at Polk and Ashland. With the Jewish community moving farther west into the Lawndale district and out of the Ashland neighborhood, they opened a branch on Homan Avenue. In the 1920's the shul sold the Ashland Avenue structure and built a grand new edifice at Independence and Polk. In that era, the West Side was called "Little Jerusalem," and Jewish life enjoyed a golden age of growth, vigor and prosperity. It was also at that time that Rabbi Silber helped to establish the Hebrew Theological College and served without salary as its first President. Rabbi Silber continued his gifted leadership of Anshe Sholom, until his passing in 1946.
Establishment of the Melrose Location (1930 – 1960)
In the late 1930's, a group of members saw the potential of bringing their kind of open, welcoming Orthodoxy to the North Side, where congregations of other kinds had been thriving since 1910. They began a branch called "Lakeview Anshe Sholom Center", and opened in 1940 in a converted greystone residence at 540 West Melrose Street. As it grew, they hired a young Hebrew teacher, Rabbi Herman Davis zt'l, and quickly elevated him to the position of Rabbi of the congregation, in 1945. More than anyone else, it was Rabbi Davis who made the Lakeview experiment a success, and built the shul into a respected center of Orthodox worship, communal life and education.
Although Rabbi Davis actively raised funds for the construction of a permanent synagogue building, he and the congregation decided to put education first. They built the school building which has since become the property of the Florence Heller JCC, directly east of Anshe Sholom. Only after the construction of the educational building was the present shul erected and dedicated, in 1959.
Birth of Anshe Sholom B'nai Israel (1960 – 2013)
Two additional mergers brought our congregation to where we are today. In 1960, the last few members of Congregation Bnai Israel left Old Town, ceased operations in the 1300 block of Sedgwick Street, and our shul became "Lakeview Anshe Sholom B'nai Israel". Two years later, the long postwar decline of the Old West Side brought an end to the main Anshe Sholom Congregation on Independence Boulevard, and it, too, merged into ours, creating the present name.
After Rabbi Davis' death in 1975, the Congregation retained Rabbi Joseph Deitcher zt'l. Rabbi Deitcher was a beloved leader who continued the rich leadership of Rabbi Davis and proved that Anshe Sholom B'nai Israel Congregation is not the work of any one person, but rather the expression of the faith and devotion of a like-minded community which upholds Orthodox belief and practice, while confidently engaging with the modern world. Rabbi Deitcher's two decades of dedicated leadership is a treasured legacy of our community.
After Rabbi Deitcher's passing in 1994, Rabbi Asher Lopatin joined our shul, bringing his energetic leadership, forward thinking, and faithful dedication to our values. Rabbi Lopatin served as spiritual leader of Anshe Sholom B'nai Israel Congregation for 18 years. He received his ordination from Rav Aron Soloveichik and Yeshivas Brisk and also from Yeshiva University in New York. Rabbi Lopatin won a Rhodes Scholarship and was a Wexner Fellow. His interest in being a pulpit rabbi stemmed in a large degree from his involvement in Jewish life at Hillel at Boston University, the Jewish Society at Oxford University, and the West Hampstead Alternative Minyan. Rabbi Lopatin has spoken for many groups including JUF, Spertus College, Dawn Schuman Institute, the University of Chicago, the Chicago Community Kollel, the Milwaukee Kollel, as well as for Reform, Reconstructionist, Conservative, Traditional and Orthodox synagogues and communal groups. He is a member of the executive committee of the Rabbinical Council of America and has been listed as one of the top 25 rabbis in America by Newsweek Magazine. In 2013 Rabbi Lopatin left Chicago to become president of Yeshivat Chovevei Torah Rabbinical School in New York.
Click here to read a speech on the history of Congregation B'nai Israel by ASBI Member Marilyn Rest.