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Liberty resident shares history of Valley rabbis

Youngstown used to house 5 synagogues

YOUNGSTOWN — The city in its history has seen many rabbis come and go from what once was five synagogues in the community, each contributing something to where they served and many having unique and important accomplishments.

Liberty resident Marcia Levy shared what she found out about 25 of those Youngstown rabbis dating back to 1867 during a recent speaker series program at the Jewish Community Center. The rabbis served at Rodef Shalom, Children of Israel, Temple El Emeth, Temple Emmanuel and Ohev Tzedek. Temple El Emeth was formed from the merger of Anshe Emeth and Emmanuel El.

– Rodef Shalom was the first Jewish temple in Youngstown, with its building constructed in 1867 at the corner of Fifth and Lincoln avenues, Levy said. It was torn down when Youngstown State University expanded its buildings.

The first to serve at Rodef Shalom was Rabbi Lippman Liebman, from 1868 to 1888.

“He had 12 children and was only making $500 a year in salary. He saw how difficult it was to support a family on that amount. So he retired and went into the real estate and insurance business, and he became very successful,” Levy said.

Later, Rabbi Julius Grossman, who was a college professor at the University of California, came to Rodef Shalom and served for 20 years.

Rodef Shalom’s building was moved in 1914 at the corner of Elm and Woodbine avenues, where it still stands today.

Levy said she remembers Rabbi Sidney Berkowitz, who served from 1946 to 1983

“He was my rabbi when I was confirmed, when I got married and when my children were born. He received many awards when he was a rabbi, including the Prime Minister’s Medal of Israel. He was there for 37 years and was the rabbi to serve the longest of any rabbi at any temple in Youngstown,” she said.

The most recent rabbi was Rabbi Frank Muller who served from 1995 to this past May when he retired. Levy said Muller’s parents and grandparents were Holocaust survivors.

She has prepared a special program on Muller, which would have been presented when he retired but was postponed due to the coronavirus pandemic.

– Children of Israel was started in 1870 on Summit Avenue until 1959, when it was on Fifth Avenue, Levy said. The first rabbi was Rabbi Isaiah Rabinowitz.

Rabbi Max Brown who served 1915 to 1934 at Children of Israel and had two sons, Dick and Jack, who were both singers and sang with Mitch Miller, she said.

Rabbi David Merkin served from 1988 to 1993. His parents were Holocaust survivors.

– Temple Emanuel was located on East Rayen in 1904 with Rabbi Saul Silber, who later founded Hebrew Theological College in Chicago, she said. Rabbi Carl Mannella was the youngest rabbi to serve at age 23 at the time.

– Anshe Emeth Temple was established in 1923, with Rabbi Benjamin Birnbaum serving as the first rabbi. Levy said Birnbaun’s first cousin was actor and comedian George Burns — born Nathan Birnbaum — with whom he grew up.

Rabbi Leonard Azneer served from 1950 to 1968 and also was a professor at YSU for 20 years and then became president of Des Moines University College of Osetopathic Medicine, she said.

Rabbi Samuel Meyer served from 1971 to 1990 and prior to being a rabbi had played with the New York Yankees, Levy said.

Meyer and Catholic priest the Rev. George Balasko formed the Christian-Jewish dialogue series, which still is in existence. The series brings Jewish and Christian people together for discussions to share similarities and differences.

“It is a very popular series with lectures and sharing of ideas and views,” she said.

Rabbi Joseph Shonberger has served since 1997 at Temple El Emeth. His parents both were Holocaust survivors. El Emeth was established in 1982.

– Ohev Tzedek was established in 1920 on Pennsylvania Avenue with Rabbi Harvey Tokayer the first rabbi, from 1929 to 1935.

Rabbi Arnold Turetsky served from 1956 to 1963 and gave the invocation at the House of Representatives in 1961 and inserted Hebrew into the prayer, Levy said.

Rabbi Mitchell Kornspan served from 1980 to 2000 and was the only rabbi to be born and raised in Youngstown and then to serve in Youngstown.

Rabbi Joel Berman, who served from 2004 to 2010, had worked as a comedian in California before becoming a rabbi.

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