Amsterdam’s Jewish community started growing in the 1860s, according to research done by Abby Cretser at the Walter Elwood Museum on behalf of Congregation Temple of Israel Foundation.
Temple of Israel, a Reform congregation, was incorporated in 1874 with Isaac Wasserman as president and Joseph Gregar as the first rabbi. Congregation Sons of Israel was formed as an Orthodox synagogue in 1887. The first president was William Olender and the first rabbi was Louis Eisenberg.
Services were held at members’ homes and halls were rented for the high holidays. Temple of Israel built a substantial house of worship at 8 Mohawk Place in 1901. The architect of the Mohawk Place temple was Worthy Niver of Schenectady. The building was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1992.
Congregation Sons of Israel bought a home at 83 Grove St. in 1908 and in 1914 moved to the former Germania Hall at the corner of Grove and Liberty streets.
In 1914, the Daughters of Jacob Society came into being, an organization of women formed within Congregation Sons of Israel. Their mission was to support the Jewish community and the community as a whole. During World War II, they gathered clothing and food and worked with the Red Cross.
Congregation Sons of Israel became a Conservative congregation in 1945. In 1976, members funded construction of a new building at 355 Guy Park Ave., and this venue still remains its home.
Cretser wrote that many Jewish men became prominent merchants. There also were a number of Jewish businesswomen such as Anne Frankel, Vera Gordon and Rae Kupferberg.
One of the first Jewish men on record in the 1800s in Amsterdam was Benjamin Singer. Singer’s family started Amsterdam Printing and operated it for many years. The promotional products firm is now part of a different company but is still in the Amsterdam area.
In 1865 Julius Wasserman came to Amsterdam and became postmaster in 1886. He started Amsterdam Broom Company on Brookside Avenue, which he headed until his death in 1916.
He also operated a general store, and was a charter member of the Amsterdam Board of Trade. At the time of Wasserman’s death he was president of Temple of Israel.
The most famous Jewish native of Amsterdam is the actor, producer and author Kirk Douglas, born as Issur Danielovitch in 1916 on Eagle Street in the city’s East End.
Amsterdam has had two Jewish mayors — attorney Carl S. Salmon, Sr. served three terms in the 1920s and businessman and attorney Marcus I. Breier served one four-year term starting in 1964.
Samuel A. Bloom, who went on to be Congregation Sons of Israel’s rabbi for 39 years, came to Amsterdam in 1949. Bloom was born in Savannah, Georgia, where he attended high school. He was ordained at Beth Joseph Rabbinical Seminary in Brooklyn. A popular speaker and a learned man, he earned a doctorate at New York University.
Rabbi Bloom was heard regularly over WCSS radio for 30 years. Active in community affairs, he was president of the Greater Amsterdam Clergy Association and headed United Way campaigns. His wife, Eleanor Golub Bloom, was executive director of United Synagogue of America for the Empire Region, and on the board of the National Jewish Youth Directors of America.
Eleanor Bloom died in February 1988 and Rabbi Bloom died in July of that year. The Recorder eulogized Bloom as a “wise teacher, a good man,” who “helped break the chains of hypocrisy and prejudice in Amsterdam,” and who left a “living legacy that through understanding and cooperation all things are possible.”
Bob Cudmore is a freelance columnist. Opinions expressed in his column are his own and not necessarily the newspaper’s. Anyone with a suggestion for a Focus on History topic may contact him at 346-6657 or [email protected]