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Congregation Orach Chaim History

Congregation is said to have been founded at a meeting of Jews in the house of Rabbi Phillips, a retired Rabbi from Toronto. They adopt German minhag (custom) and nusach (order of prayer).

June 20, 1879 
"A new congregation has been started on East 57th St., called the Orach Chaim. It is composed of seceders from the Cong. 'Adas Israel' in the same street.' (The Jewish Messenger)

August 1, 1879 
"...About twenty, mostly young men, have formed themselves into a congregation under the name of 'Orach Chaim', Path of Life, their objective being to hold Divine service everyday, morning and evening, as well as on Sabbath and holidays on strict orthodox principles, as it has been handed down to them by their fathers." (The Jewish Messenger)

December 7, 1879 
Formal incorporation; Constitution and By-Laws issued; first meeting place is 203 East 54th Street; First members are Sigmund Arnstein and Marcus J. Cohen.

May 28, 1880 
Lazarus Herzberg, first spiritual leader; Seligman Dannenberg, chazzan; Abraham Nussbaum, first president. "This congregation.. .is quietly extending its influence and securing the objective for which it was organized - not the formation of a large congregation and the building of a handsome synagogue, but the daily study and practice of the Law." (The Jewish Messenger)

Congregation acquires its first burial grounds from Union Field Cemetery of Congregation Rodeph Sholom.

December 18, 1885 
"Last Saturday afternoon, Rabbi S. Schocher, of Russ, near Memel Prussia, lectured at the synagogue of this congregation...in the old style of the Derashot. Rabbi Schocher is one of the martyrs of Bismarck's tyranny." (The Jewish Messenger)

"We hear that even uptown (on 54th Street) there is a congregation called the Orach Chayim, whose members are enormously wealthy and completely German - that is from Germany and Prussia - and who gather daily after the afternoon prayers (minchah) to enjoy Torah study." (Moses Weinberger, Jews and Judaism in New York)

April 20, 1888 
Orach Chaim contributes support for a New York City Chief Rabbi. "This action is the more significant as it is the first uptown congregation to join the downtown contingent and mostly composed of Germans while the other uptown orthodox congregations are mostly composed of the Polish element." (The Jewish Messenger)

October 25, 1889 
Dr. Abraham Neumark elected "minister" and "...will hold regular discourses on the Talmud and lectures in German every Saturday afternoon." (The American Hebrew)

May 20, 1898 
After worshipping for many years in rented space, reportedly above a beer saloon, the congregation resolves to purchase its first building at 221 East 51st Street, formerly a church. At a meeting, long-term president Meyer Dannenberg "...arose and surprised members by giving toward the new edifice $5,000 in behalf of his son, Hon. Isaac Dannenberg." (The Jewish Messenger)

June 8, 1898 
Orach Chaim is one of the founding congregations of the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America.

December 9, 1898 
Meyer Dannenberg passes away. He "...was an Israelite of the olden school...he was truly pious and he leaves to his descendants and friends the priceless legacy of a good name." (The Jewish Messenger)

March 24, 1899 
Congregation opens its new home. "An ornament to Manhattan in general and to the inhabitants of E. 51st in particular, is the handsome new edifice of this synagogue The only thing that mars the beauty of the structure is the $15,000 mortgage. It would be, indeed, permissible even for the most ultra-orthodox to learn from Roman Catholic neighbors not to dedicate a place of worship in the presence of a mortgage." (The Jewish Messenger)

January 13, 1907 
As the Jewish community moves north (Yorkville/Harlem areas), so does Orach Chaim. Two townhouses are remodeled into the present building which opens on this day.

In the pulpit since 1906, Rabbi Joseph Mayor Asher dies at age 37. Born in Manchester, England, and a Cambridge graduate, his obituary notes that he was "...an Erudite Talmudic scholar." (The New York Times, 11/10/1909)

Tenure of Rabbi Dr. Joseph H. Hertz of Johannesberg, South Africa. After a highly publicized battle, he is elected Chief Rabbi of the British Empire over Moses Hyamson. He is the author of the "Hertz Chumash."

Sisterhood of the congregation is founded.

Rabbi Dr. Moses Hyamson, former head Dayan of the Beth Din of London and acting Chief Rabbi of the British Empire is elected Rabbi. His distinguished leadership contributes significantly to Jewish life here and abroad during his 31 year tenure:

Founder of the Board of Milah (ritual circumcision) in New York.

Early leader of the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America.

Orach Chaim and the Yorkville Synagogue co-sponsor a Hebrew School with an enrollment of over 450 children.

Initiated the formation of the Central Relief Committee which provided European yeshivoth with much needed assistance.

Rabbi Hyamson leads the battle to preserve Schechita (ritual slaughter) in America.

Rabbi Hyamson is President and leading founder of The League for Safeguarding the Fixity of the Sabbath. He helped prevent the legislation of Calendar Reform, which on an international level would have created a "wandering" Sabbath, changing to a different day of the week each year. He met with Herbert Hoover, addressed Congress and the League of Nations.

Rewrote rules and regulations for the Orach Chaim Men's Chevra Kadisha.

Professor Emeritus of Codes at the Jewish Theological Seminary of America. Translated "Duties of the Heart"; authored "The Oral Law," and numerous writings on Jewish issues of the day.

Congregation purchases townhouse at 1459 Lexington Avenue for use as a Community House.

Julius Dukas, President, also advances the Hebrew Free Loan Society. Congregation acquires new burial grounds at Beth David Cemetery in Elmont, Long Island.

Due to the Economic Depression, the congregation cancels its plans for a 50th anniversary celebration.

Emil Offenbacher serves as treasurer through 1959.

Many of Orach Chaim's sons serve in the Armed Forces. Congregation is actively involved in relief efforts for European Jews and settles immigrant families into the community.

Rabbi Samson R. Weiss leaves the pulpit in 1945 to serve as National Director of Young Israel. In response to growth the congregation organizes a kindergarten. Prayer books with English translation are introduced. Rabbi Gersion Appel serves in the pulpit until 1948.

Rabbi Simon Langer of Paris, France elected Rabbi. Boris Z. Gorlin is largely responsible for bringing Rabbi Langer to Orach Chaim.

Samuel Alexander Schonbrunn, owner of Savarin coffee, donates East 95th Street townhouse for use as the Rabbi's residence.

David Tevlovitz becomes cantor. He and his wife play a vital role in caring for Mt. Sinai patients and their families on Shabbat and the holidays.

In order to widen Lexington Avenue, City of New York requires that Orach Chaim remove the building's exterior staircase. Renovation of the building facade and modernization of the lower level are made possible through the generosity of Irene and Gustav Stem.

French government awards Rabbi Langer the Chevalier de la Legion d'Honneur for his "...extraordinary contributions to the advancement of better French-American relations before and after the Second World War. He is credited with rescuing many French children from the Nazis." His tireless work with Bikur Cholim continues. (The New York Times, 3/18/1961)

Arthur Moos, sexton of the shul since 1928, passes away.

Rabbi Kenneth Hain establishes the Tuesday Evening Bible Class.

Mayor Edward I. Koch proclaims Sunday, December 16th as "Congregation Orach Chaim 100th Anniversary Day." More than 800 guests attend special ceremonies to mark this occasion. (Jewish Week-American Examiner, 12/16/1979).

Rabbi Dr. Michael D. Shmidman begins tenure. He institutes a daily Tanach shiur and serves as Chairman of the Midtown Board of Kashruth. Library renovated by the Hirtz family.

Orach Chaim members are among the leaders who found the Upper East Side Hatzolah.

Congregation is noted in early NYC Jewish history as being "...among the most important synagogues uptown." Picture of Orach Chaim's building headlines a 4 page entry under 'Jews' in Kenneth T. Jackson's Encyclopedia of New York.

Orach Chaim begins its participation in a community-wide outreach program, "The Friday Evening Shabbat Experience."

"5758 and Beyond" - Congregation launches the Twenty First Century Building Fund.

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