From the collections at the Leavenworth County Historical Society and Museum. Reprinted with permission from The Leavenworth County Historical Society and Museum and the Leavenworth Times. Donated by Debra Graden.
Doctor Joseph, rabbi of Temple Bnai Jeshurn, was absent Friday night, the time for the weekly services and he called upon Morris Abeles to take the lead. The Rabbi asked Mr. Abeles to talk upon the subject: "Jewry in the Early History of Leavenworth," and upon this topic he delivered a most interesting address. Feeling that it will be of interest to all the people of Leavenworth and especially to the older people who are readers of The Times, Mr. Abeles has been solicited to permit its publication and has consented. The address is as follows:
Had our forefathers known that Friday evening was the most illogical time in all the week for holding religious services in Leavenworth, they might have selected some other time as the evening of the Seventh day. For on that night we come in competition with the three picture shows, the usual high school entertainments, and such special attractions as the Parent Teacher play, dances at the Fort, and the several card games, which have become a fixed amusement for that night.
It reminds me of a story I recently heard, of one of our people, reaching London unexpectedly on a Sunday. Not knowing how to spend the day, he inquired of the landlord, where he could find the Gaiety theatre, expecting to attend a vaudeville performance. The landlord informed him it being Sunday and the Blue laws in force, the theatre was given over to religious services. From 8 to 9 the Catholics held forth, 9 to 10 the Methodists held services, 10 to 11 the Presbyterians, and from 11 to 12 the Church of England held their exercises. Don't the Jews hold anything? inquired the stranger. Oh yes, replied the landlord, they hold the mortgage on the building.
So while most of the societies and organizations are holding something tonight we are privileged to hold our services with those that are left.
The subject, as announced by Rabbi Joseph, "Jewry in the Early History of Leavenworth," can but briefly be dwelt on in the limited time at my disposal.
Unfortunately, the records of the early congregations, have either been destroyed or misplaced, so that what I shall say will necessarily be from the recollections of those who lived here in those days, or of events told them by the pioneers.
That you may, the better appreciate your condition today, I ought to tell you what our ancestors lived through.
Kansas was not yet admitted to the Union, and there was bitter strife, as to whether it should be a slave or free state, and frequent were the clashes between the different adherents who tried to decide this problem on the townsite. There were no railroads in the Territory of Kansas, so that our supplies came by boat on the Missouri river from St. Louis and the east.
Here the goods were distributed to freighters, who transported them overland to Pike's Peak and on to New Mexico, taking months to make the trip.
The levee, as the foot of Cherokee and Choctaw streets was known, was a scent of activity, especially upon the arrival and departure of the boats, which made frequent trips as far north as Montana.
What there was of the business section was settled near the river. Third street was considered pretty far west, though later on the town extended to Fifth street.
Cherokee, from Fifth to Sixth, was one of the busiest streets, mostly inhabited by Jews with small stocks, who lived either back or over the store.
Our ancestors brought with them the customs of the old country, which they had but recently left, coming either direct or from some eastern states, where they had temporarily stopped until hearing of the great possibilities of this frontier town. Very few of these immigrants were native born and so the habits and customs of the early settlers continued as in their native lands. Accustomed to work, the women folks not only assisted their husbands in business, but attended the household duties as well. Large families generally prevailed. When you take in consideration the conveniences we now have, were unknown to our forefathers, you can better realize the hardships they endured. It surely was not all peaches and cream with them. Electricity was unknown, so that candles and coal oil served for illumination. The telephone and automobile were not thought of. But with all this they were happy. Happy they had found a land of opportunity, where they were secure of life and liberty, and where their children could obtain an education which was denied them in their native lands.
Religiously inclined at home, they had not outgrown this in their journey across the ocean. They supported two congregations, the one strictly Orthodox, the other modified Reform. The first Synagogue erected was in 1866, which served for fifty years, giving way to the present magnificent structure in 1916. Prior to 1866 services were held in different halls rented from time to time.
Dr. Machal, later of Cleveland, O., was one of the early Rabbis. A. Lorie was for many years the Cantor, assisted by H. Freundlich, who also acted as Shochet in those days. His widow, now more than ninety years old, lives with her daughter in New York City.
The professions were poorly represented, there were no Jewish lawyers, and but two represented the medical profession, Doctors Utosi and Shoyer. The latter became the husband of Susan Hershfield, sister of R. N. Hershfield, a leading jeweler in those days and later a colonel in the Civil war.
Among the earliest settlers might be mentioned the Wollman family, the head of which ran a clothing store on lower Delaware, later moving to the northeast corner of Fifth and Delaware. The family some years ago move to New York and are rated as millionaires. The widow, a member of the Kohn family, consisting of three brothers. Herman, George and Simon, now more than eighty years of age, still survives.
Joseph Ringolsky another pioneer prosperous in business and active in Jewish affairs, and not long deceased. A daughter Sarah, wife of Ed Winnig, is still a resident of this city.
The Sallingers, Charles and Gus, were also among the early merchants, their families claiming Leavenworth as home.
The Abeles family settled here in 1857, the unmarried members of which are still residents.
Simon Abeles first opened business on the Levee, then at 213 Cherokee. In 1863 he erected the building at Third and Cherokee, where, for twenty years, he carried on a general outfitting business.
Al and Mose Salinger, who now are among the well-to-do in California, received their early training here.
John Abrams was also one of the smaller merchants, whose daughters, Mrs. E. Michael and Miss Jennie, were among the later residents; the latter a great church worker whose recent demise we all sincerely lament.
Bernhard Flesher another pioneer, kept one of the higher class dry goods store, and when he moved to the three hundred block on Delaware street, there was much criticism as to his judgment in locating so far west. He was for many years president of the congregation, took and active part in civic and religious affairs and is survived by his widow in her ninety-fifth year and still a resident of this city.
The Michael families, Elias and Louis, deserve recognition. The former conducted a clothing store where The Times is now located, the latter dealt in hides and furs, was President of the congregation for several years and served one term as county commissioner.
Kauffman Harris was one of the early business men and whose long residence on Pottawatomie street helped make that the leading Jewish residence street, head of a large family. Mrs. Charles Loeb is all that remains in Leavenworth.
Henry Sellers a leading tailor was also a Pottawatomie street resident prominent in Jewish affairs. He left no children but his widow visits here occasionally.
George Kohn, a early business man and politician. Family now lives in Las Vegas, New Mexico.
Marcus Sickel was another early resident, who became prosperous. His sons Edwin and Joseph are both member of the congregation. The high class clothing stores before the Civil war were the Woolf Brothers, Al and Sam, and the Rothchild Brothers, Phillip and Morris. These stores still retain this high classification in Kansas City, where they moved a number of years ago, the business being conducted by their heirs.
In cigars and tobacco, Rothenberg and Schloss were well known, and still ear this distinction in Kansas City where they are now located. Mr. Schloss died a few years ago and in his will bequeathed a considerable sum not only to the congregation but the Bunal Society as well, in both of which he was so much interested during his residence here.
Meyer Goldsmith was also engaged in the tobacco business during the sixties. A daughter and his widow still reside here.
S. Steindler was one of the early dry good merchants of the city. Five children survive, three residents of the city.
Simon Phillips one of the sixty year ago merchants, a member of the different Jewish organizations will be remembered. His two sons Sol and Morris are still residents and members of the congregation.
Louis Hoffman came to Leavenworth nearly sixty years ago, forty of which he was a member and officer of the congregation. He early engaged in the jewelry business and served a couple of terms as Police Judge.
The Samish and Wohl families were among the pioneers. The former family, the largest now in the city, and one of the wealthiest.
The Benjamin boys, well known philanthropists of Kansas City, whose humble origin in this city is a matter of much pride to all of us and deserving of a more extended notice.
Levi seemed to have been a popular name in the early days, so that it was necessary to distinguish one from the other, they were known either by the business they followed or the street on which they lived. Hence, we had Schneider Levi, Pottawatomie Street Levi, Cherokee Street Levi and Pikes Peak Levi. Most of these have passed to their long reward. Only the first named has a widow and daughter remaining in our city.
This review would not be complete without the mention of a host of pioneers, Stettauer, Einstein, Jereslaw, Reach, Golding, Friedman, Franks, Bernstein, Haas, Silverman, Davis and others I do not recall.
Last, but by no means least, I come to Henry Ettenson, who fifty years ago was starting on a business career which destined to prove so successful. He was an enthusiastic worker in all things pertaining to the Synagogue, many years it's President and at his death not so long ago left a widow and sons who are carrying on the work he so wisely and generously began.
The Jewish population of the city is considerably less today than it was fifty or sixty years ago, so I may have unintentionally omitted mention of some of the families.
The few remaining sons of these illustrious sires, who yet claim Leavenworth as home feel a pardonable pride in continuing the work so worthily and with such sacrifice begun.
Let this magnificent Temple, the result of that filial affection, be as a monument to their memory and a blessing to all of us.