Synagogues / Ahavas Sholem
Congregation Ahavas Sholem formed as an orthodox synagogue of the East Side of Buffalo in 1890. It was also known as the Jefferson Street Shul and the Jefferson Avenue Shul. It was one of the last congregations still in operation on the East Side in the 1950s.
Congregation Ahavas Sholem, also named Ahavath Sholem, was known colloquially as the Jefferson Street Shul when it was first built, and the road was still a “street”. Ahavas Sholem was formed in 1890 by immigrants from Russia who lived off Buffalo’s East Side. The synagogue was officially incorporated as “Ahavas Sholem” on March 21, 1892. Until it had its own building, it met in member’s homes. Once at 407 Jefferson Street, it provided classroom space for the Talmud Torah, Buffalo’s first city wide supplementary religious school. In 1903, the congregation paid the sum of $28,000 for an addition to the front of its existing building. This addition was designed by the architect A. E. Minks and it quickly became an iconic landmark because of its Moorish revival “onion” shaped dome and its honey yellow colored bricks. The building was topped with a set of four finials on the topmost corners. A large Star of David stained-glass window centered the front of the building but was covered over when the building became a church in 1960. Other Stars of David were built into the original building in the two front widows either side of the large star portal and above the entranceway doors.
The Jefferson Shul building was the largest synagogue building in East Buffalo with three levels. Above the main sanctuary was a “Ladies Balcony” following orthodox practice of separating men’s and women’s worship areas. This was shaped into a horseshoe shape and had a richly stenciled ceiling from surviving descriptions. Below the first floor was a lower level for study. A set of stairs ran from the basement to the bimah enabling the Rabbi and Cantor to make their entrance for services directly into the center of the congregation without walking through the sanctuary.
Both William Street and Jefferson were the main thoroughfares of Jewish life in Buffalo for many decades. It was here on the East Side that over two-thirds of the Jewish population lived at the turn of the last century, and the place where many of today’s Jewish families recalled their own relatives’ early beginnings. Members were relatively successful tradesman and a clipping from the Buffalo News, dated April 18, 1931, recalled leaders of the synagogue appearing in cutaway coats and silk hats on Shabbat and the High Holidays. A number of cantors and rabbis served the congregation including Rabbi Isaac Manch, father of Dr. Joseph Manch, who served as the Superintendent of Buffalo schools. In the 1930s, Cantor Hyman Schulsinger was employed as the lead clergyman, however after he left for Temple Beth David, the synagogue was unable to find another chazan as the decline of the Jewish East Side accelerated in the 1940s. After struggling into the next decade, the synagogue closed in 1954 and the building was put up for sale. It had a brief reopening for a special shabbat services in1957, in honor of the Lord Mayor of Dublin, Robert Emmet Briscoe, who was touring the United States.
In 1960 the building became the spiritual home of Saints Home Church of God. Two decades later, in 1982, it was taken over by the Greater New Hope Church of God in Christ. In 1997, the former temple was given local landmark status and in 2003, the building received a $10,000 grant from the New York Landmarks Conservancy Sacred Sites program to repair its roof. Despite this, the building was abandoned in the mid 2000s. In 2011, it was threatened with an emergency demolition, temporarily suspended when a local coalition of community preservationists stepped in, headed by David Torke. Despite their efforts, the building was demolished in 2014, and this iconic Jewish building on the East Side was lost.
Biography of Robert Briscoe
For a local author’s commentary, see the article by Dr. Ursula A. Falk, “Robert Briscoe, A Jewish Irishman: Highlights Taken From The Life of a Great Man Who Was Proud of His Religion.”
Estate sale find leads to A.E. Minks Archive Project
“Estate sale find leads to A.E. Minks Archive Project,” University of Buffalo UBNow, November 11, 2019
Preservation Ready: Jefferson Avenue Shul
“Preservation Ready: Jefferson Avenue Shul,” Buffalo Spree, May 7, 2012
The Jefferson Ave. Shul and the search for East Side Memories
Chana Kotzin, “The Jefferson Ave. Shul and the search for East Side Memories,” Buffalo Jewish Review; February 10, 2012, p. 9.
- You can learn more about this congregation from the records donated by Lawrence Macks, a descendant of the congregation. These are located at the University at Buffalo in the University Archives. The University Archives are located on the fourth floor of Capen Hall on the North campus in Getzville, NY. For more information about visiting the archives click here.
- Other materials are housed at the American Jewish Archives and include a minute book donated by Eli Roth in 1960. (Congregation Ahavas Sholem (Buffalo, N.Y.). Minute book, October 6, 1895-January 29, 1905. 400 p. SC-1478).
- Images by David Torke, photographer and local urbanist, who documented the last months of Ahavas Sholem.
The architect drawings are glimpsed on this website which is part of a University at Buffalo project led by Dennis Maher.
For more about the tour of Jewish Lord Mayor of Dublin Robert Briscoe, see Rebecca Heilweil’s article, “Only in America!” The Jewish Lord Mayor of Dublin Robert Briscoe in the United States, 1956-1958 , Volume 25, Issue 1 Penn History Review, 2019.
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