New book shines a light on a Chicago synagogue’s long history

A new book by Agudas Achim North Shore Congregation's rabbi tells the story of the synagogue through different historical periods.

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Agudas Achim North Shore Congregation's story began over a century ago. With the recent sale of the synagogue's 1920s cathedral-style building, a new book --History of a Chicago Synagogue: Agudas Achim North Shore Congregation ( Page Publishing, Inc.)--brings the story to life through photographs, newspaper articles, biographies, and retold memories.

"As the synagogue now faces an unsure future, I believe it is my sacred duty, as its rabbi for more than a decade and a half, to preserve the heritage of our great synagogue in a formal manner," explained the book's author, Rabbi Philip Lefkowitz.

His retelling of the synagogue's story begins with two separate congregations. The First Hungarian Congregation Agudath Achim was founded in 1884 by 10 recent Hungarian immigrants and grew greatly over the following years. North Shore Congregation Sons of Israel began when Jews from Lawndale began moving to the Edgewater district and needed a synagogue in the new area. When the First Hungarian Congregation Agudath Achim's members began to move there as well, negotiations opened to merge the two congregations into one.

When they joined to form Agudas Achim North Shore Congregation on March 10, 1923, plans were already underway for a new building constructed by Chicago architect Henry Dubin. From "Romanesque entryway arches, baroque windows, and an art deco parapet" to the marble staircases, stained-glass windows, and half-roundels, the building on Kenmore Avenue was described as "a unique piece of architecture in Chicago" by Vincent Michael, John H. Bryan Chair in Historic Preservation at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago.

Once the building was dedicated in 1925, it became the home for the merged congregation for services, holiday celebrations, and more. The congregation flourished for many until declining membership, physical neglect, and  internal legal battles led to the sale of the building.

"I am exceedingly proud that proceeds from the synagogue's sale will be utilized to provide an expanded facility for Northwestern University's Chabad House, thereby tangibly continuing our synagogue's over 130-year service to the Chicago Jewish community," Lefkowitz wrote.

Complete with a biography of each of the Reform, Conservative, Orthodox, and Chasidic rabbis who served the congregation over the years, as well as a photo gallery and reproductions of historical documents, the new book is a valuable resource for those looking to learn more about the history of Chicago's Jewish community.

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