Ner Tamid Congregation and Its History
In the early 1930's of what is today known as West Rogers Park there were no synagogues and only a few Jewish families. By 1934 more Jewish families arrived and Ner Tamid Congregation was established and services were held in a loft on the corner of Fairfield and Devon Avenues. Sometime in early 1936 Ner Tamid Congregation merged with Northtown Hebrew Congregation and facilities were established at 2501 W. Devon Ave. (Devon & Campbell) Should anyone question this latter statement I have in my possession a synagogue bulletin dated 11/5/36 that included the address 2501 Devon. Seeking permanent quarters land was purchased on the northeast corner of California and Rosemont and a cornerstone was laid in 1938 .Services were held in unfinished quarters. As funds became available further additions were made but not until 1949 were the offices and building completed.
NTC had five rabbis Rabbi Samuel Schnitzer served from the late '35- early '39 followed by Rabbi Hymen Ezra Cohen who served only one year ln1940. Rabbi Benjamin H Birnbaum joined NTC in the fall of 1941 and was with us until his passing in 1960. Sometime in the early 40's a number of congregents left NTC lead by Carl Miller and Jacob Rissman to establish B'nai Jacob whose cornerstone was laid in1944 according to records at Spertus. Miller & Rissman left NTC not because of Rabbi Birnbaum but because of an actiion by the board to increase the tenure of president from two years to three.
Rabbi Birnbaum brought the full impact of Conservative Judaism to NTC. Under his leadership there began the development of the top rated Hebrew & Sunday School in the greater Chicago Area. It was during his tenure the 16 beautiful windows in the sanctuary were constructed by DrehobI Brothers in stained glass from pictures supplied by Rabbi Birnbaum.
Rabbi Stanley Schachter joined NTC in 1961 and during his tenure his work with our youth was outstanding in getting them involved in synagogue life. RabbiSchacter left in 1972 to become Vice- Chancellor of the Jewish Theological Seminary
In 1973 Rabbi Samuel Klein became the spiritual leader of NTC .Rabbi Klein introduced many new and excellent programs for adult education. He was also President of the Rabbinic Assembly of Chicago in '84 and is a leading member of the Beth Din. During his tenure B'nai David Shaare Zedek (B'nai David/the former Humbolt Park Synagogue, previusly merged with Saare Zedek of Logan Square)merged with NTC. Again in his tenure the beautiful stain glass windows in the sanctuary foyer 'Windows of Fire .Symbols of Hope in memory of Esther Middel designed by Michael Karzen,his first and only stained glass venture, were made by the artisan ,Adolfas Valeska. These windows were the largest Aldolfas Valeska had made in his long career We have something in common with EH prior to our joining, The block glass windows fronting Rosemont Ave. were designed by EH congregant Willie Wind.
Our Hebrew school started in1940 .accredited by the Jewish Federation was the first Hebrew school in West Rogers Park. Herbert Greenwald was the first principle followed by Arthur Rubinowitz, David Blum. Harry Kessler and finally Milton Kaspi-Silverman.At its peak under Harry Kessler, 400 students were enrolled and the school was considered one of the best in the greater Chicago area. Subsequently with declining membership and students a joint Hebrew school with B'nai Jacob,B'nai Zion and Shari Ttkvah was established at the Carl Miller facilities on Granville Ave. This effort failed in a few years but NTC continued to support Hebrew School education by offering scholarships to children in accredited Hebrew Schools.NTC was and is only one of two Conservative Congregations in the entire greater Chicago area that offers support for the Solomon Schechter Day Schools. In our earlier years NTC supported USY and Kadima activities and had a Boy Scout Troop and for some time also gave support to the Egalitarian Minyan at NTC.
Some 25 years ago Ruthel Weiss became the first Women President of Conservative Synagogues in the greater Chicago Area and possibly in the entire Midwest Region.
NTC has had only two Cantors.Cantor Schultz and Cantor David Brandhandler who joined NTC in 1954. Cantor Brandhandler, a fine musician,a writer of creative liturgical music., for our jubilee year created four original compositions .entitled"! Will Lift Up Mine Eyes" .He trained hundreds of students for their bar and bat Mitzvah celebrations as well as many of our congregants for their haftarah presentations
The Men's Club and Sisterhood have been a vital source of educational and financial support with many activities available to both men and women.
We have an active Bichar Holim Committee, daily minyanim.one of the very few in this area and many Educational Programs including Hebrew classes for adults, the Sophia Berger Memorial Lecture 'Scholar in Residence' series in the fall and supported by David Berger.Jewish Book Month Lecture in November bythe Ruth Shapiro Memorial Programs and the winter 'Scholar in Residence'supported by Dr. Stuart and Mrs. Meyer in memory of his parents Martin & 'Syd' Meyer
The Harry and Constance Silverstein Library is considered to be one of the most complete Judaica Library in the Chicago Area. NTC also possesses large number of some of the best known Judaica Artists.
I Have choosen to add other information that may be of historical interest.
In , 1960 NTC tendered a retirement testimonial dinner in honor of Louis Baddin,one of the most beloved of all NTS "legends" Mr Baddin had been the shamous for over 30 years,serving NTC with unsurpassed loyality,devevotion and dedication.
Sometime in the '60's NTC had a demografic survey made covering the area from Howard St. on the north .Foster Ave on the south, Kedzie Ave on the west and Lake Michigan on the east.There were 67,000 Jews and 40 synagogues, Three conservative ,NTC, B'nai Jacob and B' Zion. Today in the same area there are only 37,000 Jews .mostly orthodox, and one conservative synagogue NTEB.
I thank the late Jeanette and Arthur Leeds , Bobby Kate and Laeh Litin for much of the information cited.
Sydney H Shapiro