OUR RICH HISTORY
Congregation Gemiluth Chassodim was originally established as the Hebrew Benevolent Society of Rapides Parish in 1852 in order to provide a Jewish Cemetery for burials. Three men, Samuel Bernstein (a resident of Winn Parish), Henry Klotz and Abraham Mitchell purchased a piece of property in Pineville for the burial of Augusta Bernstein. One belief is that certain families bought a burial ground when a small outbreak of yellow fever claimed six Jewish lives in the early 1850's. Eventually, the society evolved into Congregation Gemiluth Chassodim, which means "Acts of Lovingkindness" in 1859. The first President of the Temple was Isaac Levy.
In 1860, the Jewish women of Alexandria assembled to found the Ladies' Hebrew Benevolent Society in order to raise money to buy real estate on which a temple could be built. The Ladies Hebrew Benevolent Society eventually changed its name to the Temple Sisterhood. In 1869, the Temple Sisterhood held a fundraising ball to raise money to build a Synagogue at the corner of Third and Fisk Streets. Construction of the Temple concluded in 1871. Two years later Congregation Gemiluth Chassodim became a founding Congregation of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations on October 14, 1873 and Rabbi Marx Kline was employed as its first rabbi.
Gemiluth Chassodim experienced a great increase in its membership from 123 families in 1925, to 154 families in 1930, and 203 families in 1945. The "Second Temple" which stood as an imposing Greek Revival structure (more than three stories tall) with a dome, unfortunately burned down in 1956.
The congregation had already constructed part of its current Synagogue at 2021 Turner Street in the early 1950's. Designed by Congregation member Max Heinberg, of the Alexandria architectural firm Barron, Heinberg and Brocato, and constructed by Congregation member and builder Barnet Brezner, it stands as a unique example of Mid-Century Modern architecture. In the late 1950's, the current Sanctuary, offices and classrooms were added. The Sanctuary is capable of holding some 360 people at maximum capacity. The Congregation is in the process of applying for historical status in the National Historic Register.
As is true of many small Jewish Synagogues in the South, and indeed across the country, the numbers of our Congregation have diminished to around 90 families. However, the Temple is thriving with energy and enthusiasm; with a Religious School of 25 students and a talented teacher force of seven; with active programs for youth in music, art and a computer lab for Hebrew and religious study. Temple Sisterhood is active, providing numerous social events for Temple members, and support for the Synagogue itself through very successful annual fund raisers. Torah Study by lay leaders and guests provides additional adult educational venues; and periodic guest Rabbis, authors and lecturers provide spiritual and stimulating discussion and learning opportunities.
In 1984, Rabbi Martin I. Hinchin wrote and published FOURSCORE AND ELEVEN, A History of the Jews of Rapides Parish 1828-1919. The history was published in time for the 125 Anniversary Celebration of the Congregation on February 24, 1984. The book is still available. Please call the Temple office to obtain a copy.