United Hebrew Congregation


Information comes from a article written by Jim Reis and used here with his permission


The United Jewish Congregation dates to 1897, when several Jewish families living in Newport announced plans to file articles of incorporation for a Jewish congregation.  In the Kentucky Post account on Feb 10, 1897, the "object of the congregation is the acquiring and maintaining of a place of worship for preaching and teaching the Jewish religion."  Listed as the project backers were David Weisberg, Moses Rifkin, M Roth, Moses Dabniski, M O Roth and Rabbi Bacharagh. Moses Rifkin was listed in the city directory as Morris Riefkin listed as a tailor living at 124 W Third St in Newport.  Based on the addresses many of the Jewish family lived in the Fourth Street area.

A Kentucky Post account on Oct 14, 1897 said that although the congregation had not found a permanent home, they were meeting on a regular basis at the home of H Roth at 224 W Fourth St. and practiced Orthodox Judaism.  The congregation had enrolled 31 people and collected $256 in its building fund.  A ladies society also was organized for the purpose of arranging entertainment for congregation events.

During the next few years, the Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky area became an important center of the American Jewish movement.  A key to that involvement was Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati.  Opened in 1875, the college became a center of Reform Judaism in the late 1800s. In 1904 the Newport congregation purchased a building on the north side of Fifth street between Monmouth and Saratoga.  The building formerly housed the First Christian Church. Named the United Hebrew Synagogue the building was dedicated 22 Jan 1905.

The dedication service included the presentation of a Torah, a sacred Jewish book central in worship services to the congregation on behalf of Mrs. Gittel Gotlieb of New York City. Listed as prominent members of the congregation were Paul Adams, Louis Klatch, O Roth, Jack Weisberg, Philip Bohn and M Meyer.  The ceremony included music, refreshments and talks by Newport Mayor August Helmbold and Campbell County judges Albert S Berry and Matt Moore.  The synagogue dedication was timely because it coincided with the arrival of 500 Russian Jews to the Cincinnati area.  Most were fleeing turmoil in Russia, which included the unpopular drafting of thousands of young men into the Czar's army.

By the end of next year, the congregation in Newport had grown to the point plans were announced for the opening of a Jewish school A lot on Patterson Street near Sixth Street was purchased with plans to open a school to teach the English language and other basic courses.  The school would employ four teachers and offer evening classes as well as a traditional day school.  Listed as incorporators of the school were Benjamin Wishart, Nathan Citron and Morris Siegel.  Attorney Howard Benton was hired to draw up the legal documents.

 "The Jewish population is rapidly increasing in Newport being the second largest in the state."  Louisville was the largest.  Eventually a synagogue was built in Covington, Temple Israel but was never as large or as influential as the Newport congregation.  One of the most prominent members of the congregation in those early years was Isaac Hauer.  Hauer was a tailor who lived at 425 W Fifth St and would later run for Newport city alderman and serve as president of the Jewish Protection League in Newport.  The league was formed to demand legal action against some local bullies who were harassing Jews in Newport.

April 13, 1911 Rabbit J Salaman of the United Hebrew Congregation explained preparation then underway for the feast of Passover. He said Passover was an eight day ceremony where many families included the eating of the paschal lamb and services at the synagogue.  A new night school on W Fifth Street was dedicated 20 Apr 1911.  Ralph Hershon was the night school principal.  The assistant principal was Miss O Kent.  President of the school in 1911 was Hyman Weintraub from Ft Thomas.  He eventually served as a school board member for 15 years.

In 1914 a group incorporated as the Newport Hebrew Burial Association.  Project leaders were Joseph Tiger, Ruben Rine and Abrham Colker all well known businessmen in Newport. The burial association incorporated with $5000 capital stock and plans to buy land for development of a Jewish cemetery.  It is not clear what became of this association because apparently no Jewish cemetery was ever developed in Northern Kentucky.

Morris Riefkin, on of the founders of the congregation was buried in Price Hill Ohio when he died in June 1915. Also in 1915 the congregation packed the Newport Odd Fellows Hall at Sixth and York streets for the first banquet of the Young Men's Hebrew Association.  The young men later set up a clubhouse on a third floor of the Knights of Columbus Hall at Fifth and York streets in Newport.  The clubhouse featured pool tables, boards for chess and similar games, a gymnasium, showers, lecture hall and meeting rooms. In the association sponsored classes in naturalization, civics and the English language.

Among the lectures held was one in 1919 by S Carmel, a member of the national Zionist headquarters in New York City.  He spoke on the need for a Jewish homeland in Palestine.  At the same meeting the Newport group elected Isaac Riefkin and Henry Rosin to represent the Newport United Hebrew Congregation at the national Zionist Convention being held in Chicago. The association also promised outdoor activities when weather permitted including a baseball team.

In 1916 the Newport Jewish community drew front page attention for a Jewish Relief Day.  Given the blessing of city officials, the day consisted of a home by home canvass by volunteers to collect money for Jewish war refuges in Europe.  Among the leaders of the effort were Milton Marz, L D Marks, Louis Klatch, R Dine, A Colker, I J Riefkin, M Stuhlberg, P Lowenthal, Sam Mesh and J Weisberg. 100 volunteers fanned out across Newport, Covington, Bellevue and Dayton collecting $1248.

In 1925 Rabbi H Finkenstein presented a series of lectures at the Newport Synagogue at 117 E Fifth St. and wrote a couple of front page columns on such topics as evolution and the rise of mechanical inventions.  In June 1931 the Newport Hebrew School sponsored a large picnic at the fair grounds in Carthage Ohio.  Many politicians from Campbell County were in attendance.  School directors were Eli King, Joseph Spector, Max Cammins, Mendel Essig and Morris Essig.  Synagogue rabbi was A Rabinowitz, president Samuel Spector and Joseph Tiger was vice president.

The United Hebrew Congregation celebrated the 30th anniversary of its building on Feb 11, 1934.  Entertainment, talks and a banquet were held.  However, by this time the congregation was on the decline because of more business and community opportunities across the river in Cincinnati.  The trend of Jewish families moving out of Newport increased with the 1937 flood and the destruction of many homes in Newport's core. The most visible member of the Jewish Community was Morris Weintraub, an attorney who was very active in Newport and county Democratic politics.  He used those connections to write to Congressman Brent Spence of Ft Thomas, to lobby on behalf of establishing a Jewish homeland in Palestine.

By 1952 the Newport congregation had dwindled to 85 people and within 10 years the congregation would basically closed as older residents died and younger ones moved away.  In 1969 the synagogue building was sold to the Apostolic Temple.


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