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Two Early Confirmations


Bud Weidenthal's essay on Jewish confirmation ceremonies in Cleveland and the Weidenthal family archives, maintained by his daughter Susan and shared on these pages so generously, tell about this rite of passage starting in 1904. (See Confirmations)

Cleveland's Jewish congregations date back to 1841 (Anshe Chesed, today Anshe Chesed Fairmount Temple) and 1850 (Tifereth Israel, now The Temple - Tifereth Israel). What were confirmations like in the 60 years before the Weidenthal account begins?

The online archives of the Cleveland Plain Dealer go back to its first issue in 1845 and include a report of an early confirmation ceremony for both congregations. We show them on this page. Later we hope to use the archives of the two congregations at the Western Reserve Historical Society in an effort to present a better researched picture.


Cleveland's first Jewish newspaper, the Hebrew Observer, cannot be used for our purposes as it did not start publication until 1889.

Lloyd Gartner's History of Jewish Cleveland (1978), was created from thousands of index cards, carefully prepared from archive documents and newspaper accounts. Gartner often describes worship practices such as the language of the sermon, men praying with heads covered or uncovered, seating (mixed or sex-segregated) and music. But we can find no references to confirmations and the bar mitzvah - in fact the words are not even indexed.

Allan Peskin's short but focused This Tempting Freedom (1973, pdf, 10 MB), a study of the early years of Anshe Chesed, is our best account of the early movement toward reform, yet it too does not discuss confirmations.


Confirmation at Anshe Chesed - June 13, 1864

On June 10, 1864 this notice appeared on page 3 of the Plain Dealer.

Then a story in the Monday June 13, 1864 Plain Dealer described the event.


Read the story in the Plain Dealer online archive


The notice inviting the community to attend may had been intended to attract Jews who were not members or to show the general community that Jewish ritual was open and in English.

The June 13, 1864 Plain Dealer was only four pages, about half advertisements and notices, business and personal. The longest story of the day was a summary of Civil War news, but the confirmation story was nearly half a page long.

The "Aushe (sic) Chesed Kahal" is now Anshe Chesed Fairmount Temple. The author, who should have written 50 days, not 40, for the Pentecost, paints an exotic picture of Oriental allure with "dark eyed dazzling daughters of Judah".

Confirmed that day were 12 girls, probably age 12, and only four boys, age 13.

Reverend G M Cohen, who came to Anshe Chesed in 1861, was a well educated chazan, but not ordained, He introduced mixed-gender seating, a choir and an organ. In 1866 he would leave with 34 members, to become cantor at Tifereth Israel. In 1867 he returned to lead Anshe Chesed again, until 1873 when an ordained rabbi, Michael Machol, was hired. Machol would serve Anshe Chesed until 1907.
[ see ECH ]  [ See Plain Dealer ]

The third synagogue, mentioned only as "the Polish", would have been Anshe Emeth, today Park Synagogue (though its History webpage gives 1869 - five years later - as the year founded). The roots of B'nai Jeshurun, "the Hungarian shul", also go back to this time..The Plain Dealer, written for English-speaking readers, would be much less likely to report about places where only foreign languages were used.


Confirmation at Tifereth Israel - May 28, 1868

In 1868 what we know today as The Temple - Tifereth Israel was called The Huron Street Synagogue. It was at Huron Road and Miami (now East 6th Street).

This story appeared on page 3 of the Monday May 28, 1868 Plain Dealer.


Read the story in the Plain Dealer online archive


Eight girls and eight boys were confirmed that day. We do not know their ages. (By the end of the century, confirmation would be a ceremony for 16-year olds.)

This issue of the Plain Dealer was only four pages, about half advertisements and notices, business and personal.

Reverend Dr. Jacob Mayer, born in Prussia, came to the United States in 1866 and was named rabbi at Tifereth Israel in 1867. He had been suggested by Rabbi Isaac M Wise who knew of his liberal views. In 1873 Tifereth Israel became a founding member of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations. A brilliant orator, Mayer gained the reputation as the best preacher in Cleveland. He resigned in 1874, to serve Baltimore's Har Sinai Congregation. His place was taken by Rabbi Aaron Hahn, who would serve until 1892. Jacob Mayer's career would soon end in scandal and he left the rabbinate. [ for more see ECH ]

Readers who have attended confirmation services at The Temple - Tifereth Israel will find the description of the service familiar, especially the blessing by the parents.


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