"My House Shall Be Called A House of Prayer for All Peoples” were the words of Isaiah that were etched in stone on the Temple’s first permanent building proclaiming why, more than 130 years ago, a handful of Jews in Canton, Ohio undertook the establishment of the congregation, which was chartered on September 1, 1885. A charter was obtained from the State of Ohio and Articles of Incorporation were drawn for the C.K.B.C. (probably standing for Chevrah Kaddishah Bet Canton), a liberal congregation, which today, is affiliated with the Union for Reform Judaism (URJ).
The McKinley Avenue Temple still stands and serves a Pentecostal congregation today. You can still see the Hebrew letters in the stained-glass window above the door.
In January 2011, the Temple Israel building and land, located at 333-25th Street NW was sold to Malone University. Temple Israel moved to a temporary location in the Canton Jewish Community Center building before moving in July 2012 into its current home as part of Beit Ha’am. The shared home of three Jewish institutions in Canton came together at 432-30th Street NW, where Temple Israel, Shaaray Torah (Conservative) Synagogue and the Canton Jewish Community Federation reside.
Prior to the move to McKinley Avenue, rabbinical leadership was as unsettled as the housing. The first rabbi of record was Rabbi Aaron Machol who later served Cleveland’s Euclid Avenue Temple. Rabbi L. Nusbam served the Canton congregation briefly and then Rabbi I.E. Philo of Youngstown served both the Canton and Youngstown congregations. Although the official name of the congregation was, at that time, The Canton Hebrew Congregation, the congregation became known as McKinley Avenue Temple.
When the congregation moved to McKinley Avenue, Rabbi Louis Gross of Akron accepted Temple’s part-time pulpit. Rabbi Gross’ brother, Rabbi Arthur Bonheim was engaged as the first full-time resident rabbi. An inability to compensate him generously obliged Rabbi Bonheim to seek additional employment, which led to his departure. His successor, Rabbi Herbert Strauss, fared better being able to devote full time to Temple and the religious school until the arrival of Rabbi David Gross. From 1917-1922, Rabbi Carl Herman served. When Rabbi Herman left, the Temple was comfortably situated in its new quarters. The Board hired Rabbi Charles Latz who remained for more than two decades, contributing significantly to the development of the congregation.
The Latz’s established a unique place for themselves among the members and in the larger community. Among the things that those who knew him recall about Rabbi Latz was his gift for individual friendships. A man of “The Book,” his favorite gift to mark an important event in the life of a congregant was a book. It is not uncommon in this community to find a personalized message on the fly leaf of a book from Rabbi Latz. Rabbi Latz succeeded in fostering deep attachments with the Canton community. At the time of the congregation’s Centennial celebration, there were 50 current members who had been members when Rabbi Latz served as rabbi. One of his confirmands, Marty Jacobson, remains active at Temple today as a Lifetime Board Member and regular worship attendee and life-long learner.
With the outbreak of WWII all future planning was on hold and the Board voted to return money that had been raised to remodel the McKinley Avenue Temple. Instead, the Sisterhood produced impressive quantities of knitwear for British War Relief and for the American Red Cross. Sisterhood sold three quarters of a million dollars’ worth of War Bonds and stamps.
With victory won, in 1954, a new era began and Rabbi Latz ended his 22-year tenure. Rabbi George Lieberman assumed the pulpit for the next 9 years which were interrupted by a 1947 train crash in which Rabbi Lieberman and his wife were severely injured. Lay leaders and interim clergy filled the void during the three years that it took for Rabbi Lieberman to recover sufficiently to resume his duties.
What was for most of America a post-war boom in the early 1950’s, it was for the McKinley Avenue Temple a time of significant change. The Temple changed its name to Temple Israel. The cornerstone was laid for a new building at 25th Street and Harvard and quite unexpectedly Rabbi Lieberman resigned to serve Central Synagogue of Nassau County, Rockville Center, NY.
In mid-Summer 1954, the search committee’s unanimous choice to serve the congregation was Rabbi Paul Gorin. His installation was immediately followed by the dedication of the new building which was done with participation from Rabbis Lieberman, Latz and Union of American Hebrew Congregations (now URJ) President, Rabbi Maurice N. Eisendrath.
The Temple thrived under Rabbi Gorin’s leadership and like his predecessors, Rabbi Gorin became a major force in Canton’s civic and religious life. The religious school continued to flourish as did our Brotherhood, Sisterhood and Temple Youth Group.
In 1980, after 26 years, Rabbi Gorin announced his intent to retire in August 1981, and the search committee again had its work cut out for it.
After a careful screening of candidates, the unanimous choice of successor was Rabbi John Spitzer, who served 27 years before becoming Emeritus in 2008. During Rabbi Spitzer’s tenure, the community engaged in a thoughtful process of how best to embrace the realities of changing demographics. The Reform and Conservative synagogues formed a community religious school in 2004, and the difficult decision was made to sell the Temple and the Jewish Community Center buildings in order to combine resources and maintain institution autonomy in a shared space. With the community path more clear, Rabbi Spitzer announced his retirement date. As the community navigated its changing physical spaces and demographics, Rabbi Leah Herz was hired to serve as rabbi, which she did for two and a half years prior to the arrival of Rabbi Jon Adland in 2011. Rabbi Adland retired in 2019.
Throughout its history, Temple Israel has been fortunate to have strong leadership that has guided the congregation through growth, evolution and change. Past presidents gather each Kol Nidre evening where it is not unusual to find 14 past presidents on the bimah together. These men and women are generous mentors to those who followed them, and they continue to make themselves available to those currently in roles of responsibility.
Rabbi David Komerofsky came to Temple Israel in July 2020 from San Antonio, Texas.