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Leonard Case's Great Gift to the Jews of Cleveland


Land for Their First Synagogue

The Story      The Philosemitism of Leonard Case Srr     Webkeeper's Note

The story in brief

In a deed signed on August 13, 1843 Cleveland's first congregation, The Israelitic Society, was given land for its first synagogue. This was a great gift - unusual for its time and even in ours.

We discuss why banker and former City Council president Leonard Case, a Protestant, would have been inclined to help Cleveland's first Jews. We learn that while similar gifts to churches had no conditions, this gift was conditional. We try to explain why the deed shows a man named John Woolsey as the donor. Then we tell how a 260-year old story of persecution found its way to this web page.

The full story follows below. 


The story with John Woolsey as the donor

Lloyd P Gartner mentions the gift on page 31 of his carefully researched History of The Jews of Cleveland (1978) as follows:

"Since 1843 the Israelitic Society of Cleveland had possessed a plot of ground originally owned by a resident New Englander of notable family, John M. Woolsey. He was moved to present a tract or one dollar "whereon to erect and sustain a Synagogue or house of worship according to the rites of the Jewish or Hebraic religion.''.After several exchanges the Israelitic Anshe Chesed Society at last possessed a plot of ground for its building on the south side of Eagle Street in the old First Ward."

Gartner even cites the Book (34) and Page number (412) where the deed is recorded.

Gartner (p. 77) tells us that the Cleveland Herald reporter who attended the dedication ceremony, in his story printed October 7, 1845, noted an inscription on the wall.

A Testimonial of Gratitude to J.M. Woolsey Esq., and Lady for their liberal assistance in erecting this Ediface.

Leonard Case as donor

The 1906 edition of The Jewish Encyclopedia is online. Its article on Cleveland, co-authored by Dr Samuel Wolfenstein (then Superintendent of the Jewish Orphan Asylum) has the oldest mention of the gift.

"Its first synagogue was built on a lot exchanged for land which had been presented to the Anshe Chesed society, for building purposes, by Leonard Case, a wealthy non-Jewish landowner."

In 1910 Moses Gries, rabbi of Tifereth Israel since 1892, wrote a history of Cleveland's Jewish community. Read it on this website. He writes about the 1843 gift as follows:

"It is an interesting revelation of the spirit of the times to note that Leonard Case presented to the Anshe Chesed Society a lot on Ohio Street for the building of a synagogue. This lot was exchanged for the one on Eagle Street, on which the first synagogue in Cleveland was built, at a cost of $1,500."

In a Plain Dealer story by Hyman Horowitz, "Early Jewish Life in Cleveland". published in 1951 mentions the gift by Leonard Case.  read story

We are left with the question "Who was the donor: Woolsey or Case?" And a related question: "Which other churches received gifts of land?"
Merging Traditions by Judah Rubenstein with Jane Avner (2004) does not mention the gift.
As reported online by the Cuyahoga County Recorder
Deeds back to 1810 are available online at the website of the Cuyahoga County Recorder. There are summary records that can be searched and for each record a handwritten or typed copy of the deed is available.

Intensive searching for the years 1838 through 1844 found from Leonard Case one land sale to a church and from John Woolsey several gifts (transfers for $1.00) to churches. The dates shown are when the deeds were recorded.
From Leonard Case
June 17. 1840

First Presbyterian Society of Cleveland    $100.00
Book 28 Page 366   view deed
Today called The Old Stone Church

From John M Woolsey.
December 31, 1840

First Wesleyan Methodist Episcopal Church   $1.00
Book 29 Page 323   view deed
Became Epworth-Euclid Methodist Church
Today is University Circle United Methodist Church

September 7, 1841

First Congregational Society of Cleveland    $1.00
Book 30 Page 251    view deed
Current identity not known.

January 19, 1842

Protestant Evangelical Church     $1.00
(known as United German Congregation) 
Book 30 Page 630  view deed

Current identity not known.

September 17, 1844

Israelite Society of Cleveland     $1.00
Book 34 Page 412   view deed
Today known as Anshe Chesed Fairmount Temple

A reconciliation of the two accounts

Leonard Case made the first gift of land to a church in June 1840.
In 1831 John Woolsey of New York City bought 27 acres of downtown land for $100 an acre and moved to Cleveland to make his fortune in real estate. Through 1860, nearly 300 deeds show his name as a buyer or seller of land.

After the Panic of 1837, a severe credit contraction ensued. Leonard Case (as agent for the Connecticut Land Company or as bank president) took land back to satisfy debts. We know that years later authoritative sources give Case credit for these gifts, and that we find no other mention of John Woolsey in the sources readily available to us.
Why didn't Case have Woolsey transfer the land back instead of letting him give it away? Was it simpler, was it motivated by a desire to avoid a second recorder's fee, or were there other reasons why Case and Woolsey agreed to this arrangement?

The gift to the Israelitic Society was conditional

A complete reading of the deeds of these gifts reveals a fact not mentioned in any histories of the time: only the gift to the Israelitic Society was conditional. (See the condition  in the deed.) We quote from the deed:

".. provided however ... that if said Israelitic Congregation shall hereafter from any cause whatever cease to exist as an Incorporated Religious Society or shall cease to exist and occupy the above described land for the purpose of erecting and sustaining thereon a Synagogue  or house of Worship according to the rites and ceremonies of the Jewish or Hebrew religion, Then the Estate hereby created shall cease and the said John. M. Woolsey or his heirs may immediately thereafter reenter and enjoy the same as of his former estate as fully and entirely as if this conveyance had never been given."

While the gifts to churches had no conditions, the churches had been established longer. In contrast, the Israelitic Society, formed in 1840, did not get a charter until 1842.

Was this condition - return this land if you don't survive or fail to erect a synagogue building - imposed by the donor, or was it offered by the congregation's leaders to assuage any concerns about their ability to complete the project?

The deed was signed, sealed and delivered on August 13, 1843, two years after the first gifts to churches were made While the other deeds were promptly recorded, this deed was not recorded until September 17, 1844 - a delay of 13 months. These delays may be additional indications of the congregation's lack of readiness to move ahead.

Who was Leonard Case Sr?

Leonard Case Sr (1786-1864) was the agent for the Connecticut Land Company, the company that first offered the lands of the Western Reserve of Connecticut for sale. He was president of the village from 1821-25.

From 1827 - 1855 he was agent for the Connecticut Land Bank which acquired large amounts of land at low prices from debtors during the Panic of 1837. 

In 1832 he reorganized the Commercial Bank of Lake Erie and became its president. He may have been Cleveland's most prominent, most wealthy citizen.

A bequest in the will of his son, Leonard Case Jr. would in 1880 found the Case School of Applied Science, which in 1947 became Case Institute of Technology.


Leonard Case Sr.  ca 1860

In 1967 Case and Western Reserve joined to create Case Western Reserve University. The Case School of Engineering is today part of CWRU.

We also know that Leonard Case Sr, perhaps Cleveland's first philanthropist, in the early 1840s gave land for the building of several houses of worship. That he would have included a synagogue in his thoughtfulness was truly remarkable for its time.

In 1843, downtown land on which to build a small synagogue was worth about $300. (With annual dues $5, perhaps less, that would have been greater than the annual dues from all 40 members.) Though the gift was only a small part of the cost of erecting a synagogue building, as a sign of community acceptance, it must have had enormous meaning to the congregation.

Why did Leonard Case Sr. include a synagogue in his giving?

An earlier version of this page said:

"We may never learn how Leonard Case came to see these people of another faith from a foreign land as worthy of a gift. Perhaps he had come to know some of its members as bank customers. But somehow he decided to help them the way he had helped some Protestant churches."

Further research into his heritage and childhood, using information only recently available, may have answered that question. See The Philosemitism of Leonard Case Sr. below.


As many Jewish Clevelanders know, the rest is history. 

The Israelitic Society, would become Anshe Chesed, exchange its lot on Ohio street for one on the south side of Eagle Street, between Erie (now East Ninth) Street and Woodland Avenue. In 1846 it built the Eagle Street Synagogue at a cost of $1,500.

The building was designed like a Baptist church the builder had recently constructed. There was no inside plumbing, no gas and of course no electricity. Following the custom of the day (there was no Reform movement in America), women sat in the balcony, separate from men. If the building were standing today it would be in Progressive Field, home of the Cleveland Indians, near the center field wall. (See our Pursuit of the Plaque.)


Eagle Street Synagogue

As the Jewish community steadily moved eastward, in 1887 the congregation moved east to Scovill Avenue and Henry (now East 25th) Street, in 1912 to Euclid Avenue and East 82nd Street, and in 1957 to its present location on Fairmount Boulevard in Beachwood.

Though the deed for the 1843 gift expressed doubts about its survival, Anshe Chesed Fairmount Temple is now nearly 170 years old and one of our nation's largest Reform congregations. Below is a recent photo of its building.

Anshe Chesed Fairmount Temple
Photo 2007 by Julian Preisler from American Synagogues - A Photographic Journey  
used with permission

It would be good to say that memories of what this page has called the "great gift" have helped shape the remarkable way Cleveland's Jewish community supports their city and its good causes. Not so. It is rarely mentioned. (One example: our Cleveland Jewish News last wrote about it more than 30 years ago.) August 13th, the anniversary of this great gift, passes unnoticed and uncelebrated each year. 


On August 13, 2010 the gift was celebrated - or at least the story was told - on the pages of the Cleveland Jewish News. Read the CJN story.

The Philosemitism of Leonard Case Sr.

A bequest from Leonard Case Jr had founded the Case School of Applied Science in 1880. At the school's 1890 commencement his good friend and lawyer James D Cleveland, who was chairman of the school's board of trustees, spoke at length about the Case family. As the family fortune had been built by Leonard Case Sr, he began by speaking about the older Case's heritage. This is what he said:

"You know the old saying that, " You can make anything of a boy that you wish, but—to do this, you must begin with his grandfather."

This quaint and somewhat complex way of stating what runs in an old man's head when he has known and survived several generations of a family stock, only expresses what the laws of heredity teach, that a man is really the sum of his ancestors with all the modifications of his education and surrounding circumstances.

The lines of the Case family take us, on the paternal side, back to Holland, from which four brothers, Christopher, Theophilus, Reuben and Butler, migrated early in the last century.

We know little of them as individuals—only that they came from a nation which had fought the longest and bloodiest wars for religious and civil liberty against Spanish domination and the Spanish Inquisition, and had become the rival of Great Britain for the supremacy of the high seas, and in the planting of colonies in America, Africa and the East Indies.

The Hollanders who came to our shores, both in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, were men of the strongest fiber, and left tokens of their superior quality.

They were well educated, very practical, and strongly protestant, and have left indelible marks on the institutions of our common country.

These Holland Cases settled on Long Island and in Morris county, New Jersey - and one of them, Butler, moved into Westmoreland county, Pennsylvania, in 1778, where his son Meshach Case, a young farmer, settled, and married Magdalene Eckstein in 1780.

On the maternal side there is more knowledge of its history. Leonard Eckstein, the grandfather of the elder Leonard Case, was a native of Bavaria and born near the ancient city of Nuremburg, that old walled and castellated city founded in medieval times, about ninety miles north of Munich on the river Pegnitz. ....

In 1750 this Leonard Eckstein was a fiery and disputatious youth of nineteen, and had a quarrel with the Catholic clergy of Nuremburg. He and all his family were Protestant.

The quarrel resulted in his being thrown into prison, where, shut up in a high tower, he was treated with severity, and nearly starved. Fortunately his jailers allowed his sister to visit him and to carry to him food and other comforts. These two conspired for his escape. One day she brought to him a cake in which she had baked a long and slender silken cord.

They had discovered that the small window in his cell gave out upon a perpendicular wall eighty feet above the ground.

Upon a dark night agreed upon, the silken cord was let down from the window, and a confederate below fastened to it a larger cord or rope which Eckstein drew up to the aperture, fastened, and slid down upon, to the earth below.

His father and family, fearing that this escape and his independent disposition would bring him into greater trouble, furnished him with a little money and he fled towards Holland, where he took ship for America.

He landed in Philadelphia about 1750, a youth of nineteen, without a cent or an acquaintance in the country.

The story has a flavor of romance; but he bravely pushed his way into Virginia, married in Winchester, and moved again into western Pennsylvania, where his daughter Magdalene married Meshach Case.

There he told the story to his grand-children and showed his hands, scarred by the blisters which the cord had made as he slid down from the old Nuremburg tower window.

He lived till about 1799, and his grandson, Leonard Case, Sr., to whom he related the story, has left us his testimony of it in his own narrative of early memories.

Mr. Case, in his narrative says of Leonard Eckstein, his grandfather: "He was a man of more than ordinary mind; of strong convictions and fearless in his expression of his opinions. He had had a good education, was a good Latin scholar, and spoke English so perfectly that no one would have suspected his being a German. His difficulty with the Catholic priesthood made a deep and bitter impression on his mind, and it lasted as long as he lived. He had read the scriptures so much that he seemed to have them committed to memory. He was always ready for religious discussion when he met an antagonist of sufficient caliber, otherwise he would not engage."

As the fruit of this union of the German and Holland stocks, Leonard Case, Sr., was born July 29, 1786, in Westmoreland county, Pennsylvania, near the Monongahela river, and was the oldest son in a family of eight children. ...."

Source: Tracts of the WRHS 73-84 1892 pages 221-223
Written by James D Cleveland

Learn how we found this information.

Leonard Case Sr had roots that were different from the investors in the Connecticut Land Company and Cleveland's early settlers. They were mainly of English descent and had come here from Connecticut or other New England states. Case's family had not been English, as his surname would suggest. They were from Holland.

A genealogy website reveals that "Case" may be an Americanization of the Dutch "Kaase" or "Kaas" which means "cheese maker."

The family of Case's father was from a nation that had long offered religious freedom to Jews and had benefited from their economic and cultural contributions. Then, to settle in Pennsylvania, which under William Penn had become the most religiously tolerant of the 13 colonies, could only have added to their acceptance of other faiths.

On his mother's side there may have been an even stronger influence on his gift to the Jews of the city. His maternal grandfather Leonard Eckstein, a staunch Protestant for whom he was named and who lived until Case was 13 years old, was from Bavaria, the most heavily Catholic German-speaking region. He had fled to America after escaping from imprisonment by Catholic priests. The members of the Israelitic Congregation had also left Bavaria for freedom and opportunity. Like Case's grandfather Eckstein, they had been disadvantaged religious minorities in Bavaria.

Case's Dutch attitude of religious openness may have opened the door, and his empathy with these Bavarian immigrants may have led him to make the gift.

With his memories of his grandfather Eckstein's harsh treatment by Catholic priests, we can now understand why he made no gifts to Cleveland's Catholic churches. 

Learn more about:
  ● Leonard Case Sr.   Encyclopedia of Cleveland History
  ● The Panic of 1837   Wikipedia
  ● The Old Stone Church  website Encyclopedia of Cleveland History
  ● University Circle United Methodist Church website Encyclopedia of Cleveland History
  ● Eagle Street Synagogue    
  ● Anshe Chesed Fairmount Temple website Encyclopedia of Cleveland History
  ● The Temple - Tifereth Israel website Encyclopedia of Cleveland History
  ● Early Jewish Cleveland   This Tempting Freedom by Peskin
  ● A Dutch man who didn't welcome Jews
   (on the PBS Heritage website)
Peter Stuyvesant, governor of New Amsterdam (present day New York City) in 1654 tries to turn away the first Jews to arrive in North America.

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A webkeeper's note
How did we learn about Leonard Eckstein's imprisonment in Bavaria?

In 1750, when Leonard Eckstein, the maternal grandfather of Leonard Case Sr, was a young man in Bavaria, he was imprisoned by Catholic priests and escaped by sliding down a 90 foot rope from the window of his prison cell. Around 1795 he told this story to his grandson and showed his hands, still scarred from the rope.

How did we learn this information?

The discovery was so serendipitous, so much a blend of the oldest and newest ways information is transmitted, we will share it here.

James D Cleveland (yes, he was related to the Moses Cleaveland from whom the city took its name) was a lawyer who practiced alone, specializing in estates and trusts. He was also a close friend of Leonard Case Jr and the Case family. He knew Leonard Case Sr and had read his unpublished memoirs. He may have been the family's attorney and probably administered Leonard Jr's estate.

Leonard Case Jr made a bequest to found the Case School of Applied Science. After his death in 1880, Judge Cleveland (he had been a Municipal Court judge for two years) helped form the school, was on its board and later became Board Chairman.

At the school's 1890 commencement Cleveland spoke at length about its founding. Because the Case fortune had been built by Case Sr, he began by describing the older Case's heritage. (For what he said, see The Philosemitism of Leonard Case Sr.) In that 1890 commencement address, what Leonard Case Sr may have told James Cleveland about his grandfather and had written in his memoirs became public.

Ordinarily a commencement address of the 19th century is lost to all but the most serious scholar who, in this instance, might find it in the archives at Case Western Reserve University.

But Judge Cleveland was a member of the Western Reserve Historical Society. In the same year, 1890, his talk became tract number 79, in a series the WRHS would publish from time to time.

That too might have hidden his remarks from our view. But in 1892 the Society published 12 of those tracts as a book. A copy found its way to the library of Indiana University.

Now move ahead more than 100 years - to 2004 when the search engine company Google embarked on an enormous project: to scan and digitize entire libraries of books.

In June 2007 the Committee on Institutional Cooperation, a nationwide consortium of universities, agreed to digitize the most distinctive collections across all of its libraries as part of the Google Book Search project.


The cover of the 1892 book of tracts

The consortium includes Indiana University, which had its copy of this book scanned. So some time after June 2007 and before July 2010, what Leonard Eckstein told his grandson Leonard Case around 1795 became available on the internet.

It takes some very serious "Googling" to find it. Here is the link.

Amazing. What would my Grandmother have said?

    Arnold Berger July 2010


Thanks to all who made this page possible, including:

  ● Rabbi Moses Gries and Lloyd Gartner PhD for writing about the gift
  ● Judith G. Cetina PhD, Cuyahoga County Archives
  ● Bill Lavin, Special Projects Administrator, Cuyahoga County Recorder's Office
  ● Cleveland Memory Project at CSU for drawing of Leonard Case Sr
     From "A history of the city of Cleveland" by James Harrison Kennedy 1896  read e-book
  ● Leonard Case Sr for recording his memories
  ● James Cleveland for talking about them
  ● Western Reserve Historical Society for publishing what James Cleveland said
  ● The library at Indiana University for acquiring the book and furnishing it to
  ● The Google Book Project team and Google founders Sergey Brin and Larry Page


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