A Brief History

TIplaqueTemple Israel had a number of service leaders in its early years.  Rabbi Aaron Tofield of Charlotte would come to Salisbury occasionally to lead services.  Rabbi Tofield and Cantor Samuel Leib officiated at Temple Israel’s dedication service.  George Ackerman, a merchant in Fort Mill, South Carolina, was hired to lead services at Temple Israel for several years, even though he was not an ordained rabbi; Ackerman would travel to Salisbury for the high holidays and periodically during the rest of the year to lead Shabbat services.  Later, the congregation was served by the area circuit-riding rabbi program started by I.D. Blumenthal of Charlotte.  In 1972, they hired Israel Gerber, a retired Reform rabbi from Charlotte to lead services twice a month.  Two years later, Temple Israel began to bring in student rabbis from the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York to lead high holiday services.  Over the years, Temple Israel has relied on various part-time and visiting rabbis as well as educated lay people to lead services and teach their children. Temple member Ben Shapiro trained seventeen boys and girls for their B’nai Mitzvot in the 1970s and 80s.

Temple Israel expanded as the Jewish population of Salisbury grew.  In 1957, the congregation bought land for a cemetery.  Ten years later, they renovated their synagogue, with significant financial help from the sisterhood.  By 1971, there were 32 member families, many of which had young children.  As a result, Temple Israel added a 2000 square foot social hall and education wing to their synagogue.  Mort Lerner, the president of the congregation at the time, donated $10,000 toward the new wing in memory of his brother Irvin.  Students in the Sunday school helped raise money for the expansion by selling candy.  They formally dedicated the addition in 1972 with Morris Speizman of Charlotte as the guest speaker.  Salisbury Jews founded a joint chapter of the B’nai B’rith Youth Organization with Hickory and Statesville in the 1970s to give their children a Jewish social outlet.

The Salisbury Jewish community was very close-knit, holding regular social events like dances, card parties, and fundraising dinners at the synagogue.  Partly, this was a response to the social exclusion they sometimes experienced in town.  By and large, Jews were excluded from the local country club.  While they were active in the downtown business community, Salisbury Jews were not a part of the town’s political power structure.  Mort Lerner was the only Jew to serve on a local bank board.  Nevertheless, Jews were involved in many segments of the local economy.  Leon Stein owned a swimsuit manufacturing company, while a handful of Jewish doctors worked at the local Veteran’s Administration Hospital by the 1970s.

Today Temple Israel continues to serve our Jewish community through innovative worship, youth education, adult continuing education and cultural diversity.