|The Eras of Synagogue Building in Chicago
1850 thru 1871 (A House of Assembly) – A House Transplanted, Quote “… Let them exalt Him in the congregation of the people; acclaim Him in the assembly of the elders”. Psalms 107:32
The Jewish people start immigrating to Chicago in modest numbers. They start moving to the City Central; establish small businesses, usually living above the store. Small groups of likeminded individuals meet to form self-help societies. Services are usually well attended, meeting “above the store”. Most immigrants are from Germany, Prussia, Austria, with a few from Russia and Poland. The Chicago Fire, 1871, most Jewish businesses and shuls burned down. We just start over. A reoccurring theme.
1872 thru 1890 (A House of Study) – A House Transformed, Quote “…. The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge”. Proverbs 1:7
From storefronts to shuls (small houses of worship), The formal beginnings of Communal Buildings and Organizations. Movement out of the City Central, into newer Jewish communities further South, West, and Northwest sides of Chicago. A greater influx of immigrants, from Eastern Europe, i.e., Russia, Poland, Roumania. The first breakaway, and forming of new congregations. Businesses flourish, banks, bakeries, retail develop, and grow with the community at large.
1890 thru 1915 (A House of Prayer) – The High Renaissance, Quote “…You shall keep my Sabbaths, venerate My sanctuary”. Leviticus 19:30
From Shuls to Synagogues, the formalization of Jewish congregations. Orthodox, Reform movements gain a foothold on the majority. (And of course, the varying degrees of orthodoxy). The Columbian World Exposition, The Chicago Worlds Fair of 1892-93, heralds in a new and better world. The Jewish people fan out to even greater distances in search of better living conditions. The wealthy German-Jews tend to live in the better-established Southside areas. The newcomers tend to live further South, West, and North. The Russian-Polish-Roumanian congregations start to flex their collective economic muscle. Demanding a larger say in Jewish communal affairs. And the continuing trend of disgruntled groups breaking away, and starting new congregations. As the economy grows, and as influence ebb and flows, the tension continues to build, forming cracks in the not so cohesive Jewish community.
1915 thru 1939 (A House of Prayer) – The Classic Period, Quote “ I shall behold You in the sanctuary, and see your might and glory”. Psalms 63:3
From Synagogues to Temples. A Mass movement, to the Lawndale neighborhood. South-to-South Shore. Southwest to Austin. Northwest to Humboldt Park, Logan Square. North to the Lakefront, Albany Park-North Park, and Rogers Park. At this point, there is a consolidation, rather than a breaking away. Of course this condition does still exist, but to a much lesser degree. Business, of all types grows and flourishes. The Great Depression has a cataclysmic effect on the Jewish communities as it does on the city at large. The Jewish communal organizations rally to help, and do a wonderful job helping most people get through the worst of the Depression. The beginning of World War 2. The new prosperity begins. This is the height of Jewish population growth, wealth, and influence as a group, and voting block. Approximately 290,000 persons.
1940 thru 1965 (A House of Prayer, A House of Study, and A House of Assembly) – The Modern Period, Quote “…and I shall dwell in the House of the Lord, all the days of my life”. Psalms 23:6
The era of the all-purpose Synagogue, School, and Community Center. The post –war era begins. The W.W.2 veterans return, battle hardened, but imbued with an optimism forged in war. The beginning of the great suburban migration. (Reminiscent, of the earlier immigration of whole communities to America from Eastern Europe). Flight from the city. An idealized movement to “do better for our families”. Further consolidation of Jewish congregations. A literal abandonment of the city. Many families and congregations move to the more established city neighborhoods such as, Albany Park, North Park, and Hollywood Park. To East Rogers Park, West Ridge, West Rogers Park. To Lincolnwood, Skokie on the North. To South shore, Jeffrey Manor on the South. To Oak Park-River Forest to the West. Business tends to stay in the “old neighborhood”, as does Grandma and Grandpa. A further consolidation of congregations
1965 thru 1990 – (A House Revisited), Quote, “ Let them make Me a sanctuary, that I may dwell among them”. Exodus 25:8
Almost complete desertion from the city. The remaining neighborhoods, congregations suffer aging, and a dwindling membership. Building facitites fall into decay. Not enough finances for normal repairs. The selling off of the synagogue stock. But this is not a requiem for the Jewish community of Chicago. We just changed addresses. Living in condos, with our children, old age homes, senior living facilities. We just frequent the few synagogues remaining. Literally a handful. From over 300 synagogues to less than 10, not counting the new west side, West Rogers Park. Congregations either associates with other congregations, merge, relocate to the suburbs, or just disappear. We are still about 260,000 persons.
2000 thru Present – (A House Reinterpreted), Post Script, Quote, “ My House shall be a House of Prayer for all peoples”. Isaiah 56:7
With younger people, and empty nesters moving back into the city proper, there is a new if smaller spirit within the Jewish community of Chicago. We are cultural Jews. Some with young families yearn for a more Orthodox route. This leads to West Rogers Park, the home of the “modern orthodoxy”. Others seek the comfort of G-D, in a more “cosmopolitan sense”. There is a blurring of religion and Buddha.