Synagogues  /  Congregation Brith Israel

Congregation Brith Israel was founded as the first Russian Hasidic Shul on the East Side of Buffalo in 1887 and was also known as the Big Hickory Shul.


Congregation Brith Israel was founded as the first Hassidic “Russiche shul” in 1887 at 160 Lutheran Alley. According to research by Distinguished Professor Selig Adler published in From Ararat to Suburbia, it’s original trustees included Henry Pasman, Moses Reisman, Simon Harris and Max Mittleman. By 1889 when the congregation was in a period of growth, it moved to 209 Hickory Street. A little less than a quarter century later, it sold this building in 1912 to Anshe Emes, a rival Russian Hasidic congregation that included some of its own members as founders. Congregation Brith Israel then moved into its new purpose-built.

This larger structure allowed Congregation Brith Israel to seat over 500 more members and dwarfed its original temple, so that it became known as the “Big Hickory Shul.” It’s former home, now the meeting place of Anshe Ames was known as “Little Hickory.” Lay leaders associated with Big Hickory included Louis Sukernek, (grandfather of educator, Janet Sukernek who later married Selig Adler), Morris Smolev and Harris Schlossman. Morris Smolev along with Simon Harris (by then at Anshe Ames) observed the increasing number of congregational splits, and the mushrooming of shtiblekh (Yiddish: small houses of prayer) on the East Side. They and others attempted to unite the various orthodox shuls in a council of synagogues in 1918, but this folded after a few years.

By the 1920s, Jewish population moves to mid and North Buffalo accelerated, and this East Side congregation like others in its vicinity struggled to maintain its membership. By the beginning of the 1940s, the congregation relocated to North Buffalo and rented space at 1191 Hertel Avenue, now a store. It merging with its former rival Anshe Emes in 1947. A synagogue designed by Jack Kushin was built at 1287 Hertel Avenue and the merged congregation became Brith Israel-Anshe Ames. The 390-seat building was formerly dedicated during services on 30 August, 1954.


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There are currently no known archives of this congregation. We are seeking information about the architect of its building at 177-179 Hickory and family and organizational photographs, documents, mementos or written recollections relating to Congregation Brith Israel for digitization. If you have materials relating to the “Big Hickory Shul” and you’d like to make them available for this purpose, please contact us.