|Vol. III, No. 8
Heshvan 5606, November 1845
Consecration of the Synagogue at Baltimore.
In our last number, under the head of “News Items,” we briefly stated that by the end of the month, the new Synagogue in Baltimore would have been consecrated, and that we would communicate any particulars attending this interesting occasion. We redeem now our promise. An invitation had been extended to us, in connexion with our friend and colleague of New York, the Rev. Samuel M. Isaacs, to take part in the consecration, and the invitation was cheerfully responded to by us both. We accordingly repaired to Baltimore, on the afternoon of the 25th ultimo; and upon our arrival were received at the landing by a gentleman deputised by the congregation. We state this fact only to take the opportunity to return our thanks publicly to the gentlemen who had charge of the arrangements, for the handsome manner in which they acted throughout towards us, and we assure them that the impression, produced thereby will never be effaced from our memory; and though the hospitality of a private friend prevented us from becoming the guest of the congregation, still we consider ourself equally indebted to the general body as though we had been entertained by them according to their original design; and sure we are that Mr. Isaacs entertains the same appreciation of the kind reception he met with, which we have expressed.
Four o’clock in the afternoon of the 26th, being the eve of Sabbath Nitzabim, was fixed for the commencement of the religious exercises; and about half an hour before that time we repaired to the Synagogue in company with the Rev. A. Rice, the Rev. Mr. Ansell, the local ministers, and Rev. Mr. Isaacs; and we found the whole building almost filled, both in the main body and the gallery; and what rejoiced us most was to see that the far greatest proportion were the stated worshippers who had so nobly exerted themselves to erect this beautiful house of prayer unto the name of the God of Israel. We have been promised a description of the building, as we do not feel ourself competent to give one sufficiently definite from our absolute ignorance of architecture; but as it has not yet been received, we will merely state for the information of our readers, who doubtlessly feel an interest in the completion of the first house ever erected especially for our worship in Maryland, that its eastern front is ornamented with a doric portico, through which is the entrance into the main building. A flight of steps on each side leads into the gallery which runs along the west, north, and south sides. The main body is divided into two aisles, furnished with pews, in place of open seats, which struck us as something unusual in our Synagogues. There is no platform, or Tebah, (Almemar,) but merely a reading desk placed close in front of the ark. This, a decided defect, is owing doubtlessly to the narrowness of the building, a fault which we fear will not be easily remedied. The ark is a semicircle, reached by a flight of steps of the same form, on the plan of the Synagogues in New York. Over the ark is a circular window, laid out in the shape of the so-called “shield of David,” furnished with coloured glass of various tints. The windows also, of which we think there are four on each side, have orange-coloured glass, which reflects a pleasant and subdued light, and precludes the necessity of blinds, always more or less inappropriate in a place of worship. The usual seats for the officers of the Synagogue consist of two handsome sofas, in perfect keeping with the other arrangements. The centre aisle is carpeted, as are also the steps leading to, and the space in front of the ark. The ceiling is quite plain, and well calculated to convey the sound without fatiguing the speaker or reader a too much, a fault often discoverable in public buildings.
There are we believe two hundred and eighty numbered seats down stairs, of which all but eleven were rented the Sunday following the consecration. In the basement are two good schoolrooms, and a large hall filled up as a temporary Synagogue, to be used as occasion may require.
So much for the place wherein we found ourself surrounded by many believing Israelites, to whom were joined many Christians, among whom were ministers of many denominations, come to testify by their presence their friendship and good-will to the remnant of Jacob’s sons who had accomplished so noble a task. And indeed to these it was a matter of rejoicing. It is scarcely fourteen years ago, since the first attempt was made to organize a regular congregation in Baltimore. How feeble were the first steps that were taken; how humble the circumstances of the first who united in this enterprise; how unsightly the house they purchased as a temporary place wherein to congregate. And now look upon what has been done. An elegant structure stands erected, commenced for no other purpose than that of consecrating it to Israel’s King; and thither came many who are now in affluence or at least in comfortable circumstances, who first reached these shores as poor immigrants, escaping from the tyrannical laws of their native land. And should they not rejoice that thus far the Lord had aided them? That they had been enabled to accomplish the good work with a fair prospect, that before long the debt necessarily contracted would be all liquidated from the means of the worshippers themselves, if not previously aided by the liberality of hind strangers? And we, who have had an opportunity of watching the growth of this congregation from our frequent visits among them, participated fully in their joy, and glad were we to be there among them on that day, to lend our aid to add whatever was in our power to the solemnity of the blessed occasion. And among others there was a daughter of Israel, who as a child had been one of the first family of professing Hebrews in that city, when it was scarcely more than a village; and now she saw around her hundreds of her own faith, ready to consummate an act of the highest importance; can it be wondered that she was moved to tears, at what she saw and heard on that day? Nay, not Israelites alone felt the thrill of joy; Christians also were moved: and one honourable lady among the rest inquired of the president, why she had not been called upon for contributions. There may therefore be more brilliant temples, and more things to strike the outward eye than the simple ceremony witnessed on that occasion; but surely none which can stronger impress themselves on the thinking soul, that loves to revert back to previous circumstances, and to trace effects from their causes, and to connect them all with the great Sovereign from whom all blessings spring.
At the hour appointed, the building presented a dense mass of persons, and we record it to their credit that, mixed as was the assembly of Jews and Christians, natives and foreigners, a general spirit of decorum marked them all, thanks probably to the excellent arrangement of Mr. Dyer, the efficient president of the congregation. The service commenced by marching in procession with the law books to the front door, where they were met by a gentleman bearing a new copy of the law, which he was about to deposit in the Synagogue. The Rev. Mr. Ansell then demanded in the usual forms for the doors to be opened, פתחו לי שערי צדק אבא בם אודה יה “Open for me the gates of righteousness, I will come therein, to thank the Lord;” upon which the procession re-entered and went up to the desk, the Rev. Mr. Isaacs making the responses inside. Mr. Ansell, after pronouncing the blessing שהחיינו ascended the steps of the ark, bearing a copy of the law, which he held up in his hands, proclaiming the announcement of the unity of God: שמע ישראל ה׳ אלהינו ה׳ אחד “Hear, O Israel! the Lord our God, the Lord is ONE;” and he was answered by the united voices of the congregation, in which were heard mingling the voices of early youth and mature manhood, falling with overpowering harmony on the ear, testifying that all there, who came to worship, felt that they were indeed members of the ancient people of God, adherents to the holy covenant. There is a singular power in these few words; they are pronounced early and late, by the pious and wicked, in the east and the west, on dry land and on the ocean; and still they have never lost their power over our souls; and when they reach the heart of the Israelite, they reverberate in every nerve, they subdue it, they render it holier. And so we felt on the occasion; the words obtained for us a new meaning, and sunk as a new confession of faith into our spirit, we trust to bring forth the proper fruit to the last day of our life, then to feel as we then felt, that indeed there is but one God, one Saviour, and He the God and Father of Israel, who, though forsaken by men, are the beloved of Heaven.
Mr. Ansell then descended from the ark, and thereupon commenced the usual seven circuits around the Tebah, whilst the seven psalms which were used on the consecration of the German Synagogue in Philadelphia (see Occident No. II), were chaunted. There was no choir organized, hence the service was merely recited by the minister. After the prayer for the Government had been read, and the law books deposited in their resting-place, we, as the senior minister of the Israelites in America, having entered upon our office more than sixteen years ago, delivered the consecration sermon, which we communicate in this number, by request. After we had concluded, Mr. Isaacs took the word, and taking his text from Genesis 28:17, he exhibited what a house of God should be; it is nothing without righteousness among the worshippers; it is they who must make it a worthy tabernacle. To the wicked the Synagogue is indeed a fearful place, though it is the gate of heaven; and to the righteous it is also one of terror; he feels there the power of God over him, and that he stands at the portals through which he enters on eternal life. It is out of our power to give even an abstract of the pious reflections which this minister of our faith laid before the people. But we yet hope to give a synopsis at least, furnished by himself, at some future day, as also the sermon in the morning, of which we shall speak hereafter. After Mr. Isaacs had finished, the Sabbath service was commenced, at the termination of which the congregation and the invited strangers (no one having been admitted without a ticket, of which more than a thousand had been issued) were dismissed, inwardly satisfied with the scene they had just witnessed.
In the morning, the Rev. Mr. Rice, whom our readers know probably as a licentiate Rabbi, and a scholar of the celebrated Rabbi Abraham Bing of Würtzburg, addressed the congregation, before the taking out of the law, in a well-written sermon in the German language, in which he exhibited the duty and object of prayer, and showed that prayer should be a self-humiliation, a self-judging of the mortal before the Creator, and how the public place of worship was the proper spot where brother should meet with brother, to urge him forward in the path of righteousness. After the law had been deposited again in the ark, Mr. Isaacs spoke on the institution of the festivals, and the important reflections called up in the mind by the expiration of one year, and the commencement of another, in allusion to the day being but the fifth from the beginning of the new year of the creation, 5606. He exhorted the people not to allow the lesson to be lost upon them, that they might say, “Blessed art thou in thy coming in;” and also to be able to say when this year too shall expire, “Blessed art thou in thy going out.” We will not do Mr. Isaacs the injustice to give a synopsis of this truly affecting appeal; as we are in hopes of being furnished with the whole for another occasion, and we here renew the request we made of him to that effect immediately upon the delivery of his address. After Mr. Isaacs had concluded, the service proceeded as usual. On this occasion the Synagogue was filled with Israelites chiefly, and we noticed but few who appeared to belong to other denominations; thus evincing that the building was scarcely large enough to accommodate all the worshippers, which was farther proved by the demand for seats on the following day. It gives us also much satisfaction to state, that no collection was taken up at the consecration, thus separating the opening of the house of God from all monetary affairs, an example to be followed, we trust, upon all similar occasions.
The afternoon service was commenced about four o’clock when a numerous assembly, though not as large as in the morning, was present, and, upon request, it fell to our lot a second time to speak a few words of parting and of peace to the brethren. Our remarks were extemporaneous, as we had not anticipated being asked to speak more than once; but as our colleague had gratified the congregation with two addresses, we yielded also to the demand, and spoke without the preparation which we usually employ before appearing to address the people. Thus ended “a day in the courts of our God,” more precious than any in the tents is of wickedness; and may many such be witnessed speedily the midst of the numerous American congregations springing up around us on all sides.
The day following the invited ministers returned to their stations; but so favourable was the impression the Rev. Mr. Isaacs had left upon the public mind, that the Israelites of Baltimore have made up a subscription for a large salary, which they have offered to him, with the invitation that he should come to be their minister; but he has been prevented by his attachment for his present flock to accept this flattering call, though, if we mistake not, the salary he now receives is considerably less than that offered to him. Although our friends have been thus disappointed, we trust that they will before long obtain a man who can fill the place of minister to the satisfaction of all, and is able to speak concerning the ways of God and his law in the language of the country to the rising generation; for we deem it an undeniable truth, that the German language, no matter how eloquent the preacher, must soon become useless as a pulpit language, since the children of the present immigrants will soon know no other than the English; hence persons merely acquainted with the German will not be as useful preachers as those who are familiar with the vernacular. In saying this we by no means undervalue the learning and eloquence of our European continental contemporaries, for instance the Rev. Mr. Rice himself, who preaches, we believe, every Sabbath in Baltimore; but only as maintaining that we need another speech for the future Israelites in America; and for their sake we fervently hope that there may be soon many who will be able to lead them rightly by the pleasant waters of the law upon the road they should go.