History of the Congregation
[Note from Webmaster: Ann Isacoff's history, written circa 2006, is presented unedited as an historical reference. Rabbi Sam Seicol began his tenure at Temple Israel in the autumn of 2011.]
Temple Israel and Dover Jewry - A History
By Ann Isacoff
Officially founded in 1938, Temple Israel's roots are over 100 years older. Headstones in a special area in a cemetery in Somersworth reveal that the areas first Jews came here from Germany and Holland around 1840.
The early community had no synagogue, holding services in the homes of its members. A Torah was purchased which rested in the homes where services were held and it still survives in the Ark of today's Temple Israel. A room was eventually rented in Somersworth, on the third floor of the Library building, which is no longer there, urban renewal having taken place many years later. With the dramatic exodus
of Jews from Russia and Eastern Europe, it created a new wave of immigrants and the center of Jewish life shifted to Dover. The first shochet, James Hozid, was hired in 1919, and many years later had his store for kosher foods on Broadway (where Red's Shoe Barn is now located). In 1922 the first Hebrew teacher (a Mr. Green) was hired. By this time the community numbered some 20 families, and was renting a room at 321 Central Ave for worship and Hebrew classes. High holiday services were held in
the Grange Hall on Locust Street.
A shoe manufacturer, Joseph Freeman, undertook leadership of a building drive and made a generous pledge of $600.00, as an incentive to others. Under the presidency of Samuel Wiseman, the congregation solicited contributions from various communities to give it a start. In the spring of 1938, Hyman Pindrus purchased a house and land at the corner of Fourth and Grove Sts., and gave it to the Temple. With the sale of the house on the adjoining property, Temple
Israel had assembled the land it needed for its new home. Ground was broken in May of 1938, and six months later the new Temple was ready for use.
On November 13, 1938, a procession of members made its way through the streets of Dover from the old rental quarters to the new building, waving flags and bearing the Temple Israel torahs.
In 1952 the Temple bought the Lincoln Inn (at the corner of Nelson and Locust Streets) in Dover and the building was dedicated in 1953 as Temple Israel Hebrew Center.
From its founding, the Temple was affiliated with the Orthodox branch of Judaism. In 1962 Temple Israel joined the Conservative Branch of Judaism, with the arrival of Rabbi Sidney Rothstein, who served the congregation well for 15 years.
In 1966 the building committee concluded that the Nelson Street building housing the Religious School was inadequate. When the two houses adjacent to the Temple became available, the Nelson Street property was sold and the two houses next to the Temple were purchased. The house at 45 Fourth Street was renovated to serve as the Rabbi's residence and the house next door was torn down to make for the expansion
of the Temple's building, which was dedicated in 1970.
The sanctuary and classrooms were ready for use during the High Holidays in 1969. The first wedding was held in June of 1970, with the marriage of Marilyn Isacoff to Fred Weinberg, and the newly renovated kitchen off the social hall was the first to be used by a kosher caterer. The dedication ceremonies were held in September 1970.
In 1977, High Holiday services had to be held in double sessions. In 1998, holiday services were held in Dover Elks Club to more easily accommodate the crowd which had outgrown the Fourth Streeet Temple. In following years, Temple Israel held holiday services at Dover City Hall and at the Community Church in Durham.
In 1983, we changed our affiliation to the Reform Branch of Judaism, followed the arrival of Rabbi Jonathan Gerard as our full time Reform Rabbi in 1984.
On the departure of Rabbi Gerard, we hired Rabbi Lev Ba'esh in May of 1994, who served us as our spiritual leader until 2006.
By the late 1990s, the congregation realized that we had to expand. Then a wonderful gift was provided for us. The parents of Bruce Krassner, a very dedicated member of the Temple, until his untimely death in 1999, donated $250,000. to the Temple Building Fund in the name of their son Bruce. With the support of Carole, Bruce's widow, Matthew and Helen Krassner made the contribution to be matched by pledges from the congregation for the purchase of land on which to build a new home for Temple Israel. The
extraordinary gift came at a crucial time. Bruce Samuels, a member of our congregation, and owner of a 32 acre plot on Sixth Street, only three miles from our old Temple (overlooking a very picturesque brook) offered the plot for sale to our Temple. A committee was formed, an architect was hired, and our dream of a beautiful edifice became a reality with the eventual building and dedication of our newly built Temple April 8, 2005.
Rabbi Larry Karol began his service to Temple Israel in August, 2006. Temple Israel, with 120 families, continues to be a vibrant presence in the New Hampshire Seacoast community.