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History of Bais Yitzchok

In 1917, Albany Park was a rather new section on the North side of Chicago. The only House of Worship in the area was a Reform Temple, which did not meet the needs of an incoming Orthodox component. A group of like-minded individuals decided to form their own minyan. Only the last names of this nucleus are on record. They are Messrs. Perlstein, Weiss, Elison, Weinstein and Karasik. They met at the home of Perlstein who had a Sefer Torah, and who had just lost a son, Yitzchok, in the devastating flu epidemic that swept the country after World War I. In reverence to the family, the group decided to name the Shul in his memory; thus was Congregation Beth Itzchok born.


As their numbers grew, they leased a hall above a store on Kimball and Lawrence Avenues, and in 1919, as the membership continued to increase, they were able to engage their first spiritual leader, Dr. Isaac Millner, who also taught in the Talmud Torah. Nineteen-nineteen (1919) was a significant year for another reason. The site at 4645 N. Drake Avenue, just south of Leland, was purchased at a cost of $4,000 for the future home of the Synagogue.


In April 1922, the Cornerstone was laid, and the High Holidays of 1922 were celebrated in the new building. In 1923, Cantor Aaron Kritz was engaged, and he served until 1930. Two significant events occurred in 1926. Another spiritual leader, Rabbi Englander was engaged (until 1930), and the Congregation purchased, at a cost of $15,000, a plot of ground as its own burial section. The lot is located on 18th and Harlem in Jewish Waldheim.


The year 1927 saw drastic changes: the one story building was enlarged, the North and South walls of the structure were removed, and two wings were erected on either side of the main Sanctuary. A stadium type of seating arrangement was thus created for the women. It was unique and beautiful, and added immensely to the already impressive edifice, which housed the Beth Medresh and Talmud Torah on the lower level.


Rabbi Isaac Siegel, z”l, became the spiritual leader in 1930, and served with distinction until his sudden passing in 1949. Cantor Tevele Cohen was the popular Cantor from 1932 until 1959.


It must be pointed out that many and varied activities were held throughout the early years of Beth Itzchok, but none surpassed the study of Torah. The Chevra Mikra, an adult study group, became an integral part of its daily and Sabbath program, from its very inception. Bible, Mishna, Talmud, Medresh and Codes were diligently taught and studied. Another notable project was the establishment of the Free Loan Society, Gemilos Chasodim, on August 7, 1930. Especially during the Depression years, deserving people were permitted to borrow money, interest-free. A junior congregation, a thriving Hebrew School, Sunday School, and three separate morning Minyanim, as well as two on Shabbos mornings, and evening services, were additional noteworthy accomplishments. That a Sisterhood was organized simultaneously with the founding of the Synagogue must not be overlooked, as it was a “right arm” in its assistance financially and otherwise to the developing Congregation, and thus continued until the present.


Early in 1940, the facilities of the Synagogue building proved to be inadequate. More space was needed for the schools, meetings, social affairs, youth groups and weddings, etc. The Congregation, therefore, decided to purchase a church that was across the street from the Synagaogue, on the southwest corner of Drake and Leland Avenues, and convert it. The only problem was money, 35,000 CASH, payable in 90 days was needed! Jack H. Wax, president at the time, accomplished the seemingly impossible. Possession of the church became a reality in 1943. It became known as the Social Center of Congregation Beth Itzchok at 3543 W. Leland Avenue.


In order to raise the necessary funds, new ways and means for increasing money had to be found. It was then that the Ad Book was inaugurated. The first one was issued November 3, 1940; Jack and Lill Wax assumed the task of editing it, as well as the numerous others that followed. For 20 years, the Center fulfilled the purpose for which it was bought, in a splendid manner. In 1963, however, the era of the Center was over. Due to the changing neighborhood, it was impossible, budget-wise, for the Congregation to continue maintaining two separate buildings. The Center was sold in 1964.


In 1943, a Men’s Club was added as an affiliate of the Congregation. A group of younger men who met daily to say “Kaddish” for their departed parents decided to retain their friendship and still do something concrete for the shul. The men’s Club they created offered a varied program of social activities, coupled with projects too numerous to delineate here.


After the sudden passing in December 1949, of Rabbi Isaac Siegel, z”l, who had been Beth Itzchok’s spiritual leader for 19 years, the Congregation had the weighty task of finding another Rabbi. The new leader had to be one who could meet the needs of the older generation, as well as the younger. A fluent knowledge of Yiddish and mastery of Holy Writ were some of the prerequisites. Jack Wax, then in his 2nd term as president, headed the Rabbinical Selection Committee, and after hearing and interviewing a number of candidates, recommended the election of Rabbi Aaron M. Rine, z”l. The Board of Directors unanimously approved. Thus in August 1950, Rabbi Rine, together with his Rebbetzin Blanche Rine, assumed the rabbinical duties at Beth Itzchok.


In 1967, when the Congregation celebrated its 50th anniversary, it was also the 25th wedding anniversary of the Rines, as well as their 25th year in the Rabbinate. The Ad Book that year was dedicated to the triple occasion. Max Karzen, of blessed memory, who was then president, publicly stated that a search committee would be appointed to locate a new site for the shul. The constantly dwindling Jewish population of Albany Park necessitated this. A special highlight of the evening was the presentation of a Life Contract to Rabbi Rine, z”l.


The High Holidays, September 1969, initiated the beginning of the West Rogers Park site at 6716 N. Whipple. A fine nucleus of men and women affiliated themselves with the “new” congregation, and the popularity of the “old” shul became apparent here too, as all-important Jewish causes, local, National and international were not overlooked. Israel Bond drives, help to Torah institutions, etc, ad infinitum, were par for the course. This was in addition to the numerous social and fund-raising activities that were constantly held. Though the building did not compare in size or grandeur to Albany Park, the emphasis on Torah teaching, daily and Shabbos services, and loyal devoted members made up for it. There was a great need for additional space, where Kiddush on Shabbos, dinner, Bar Mitzvah receptions and other simchas could be observed. While a number of plans were proposed, none seemed feasible until the adjoining lot to the shul was finally approved for the construction of a social hall.


Under the very capable supervision of the shul president, Seymour L. Gertz, (1986-1988 term) the interior and exterior of the shul were completely remodeled and made so attractive that people who knew the “before” could not believe the “after.” Along with his Ezer K’negdo, Sharon, a fabulous “Chanukas HaBayis” weekend dedication drew a crowd of over 200. Sam Carl dedicated the sanctuary in memory of his beloved parents: Albert Friedman and his mother Rose endowed the social hall in memory of Benjamin Friedman, A”H. Many Beth Itzchok members have faithfully made and still continue to acquire dedications and honors through the shul.


In 1990, upon his retirement, Rabbi Aaron M. Rine became Rabbi Emeritus. Beth Itzchok’s new pulpit Rabbi, Rabbi Leonard Matanky, served until 1994. In 1994 a committee was formed to hire a new Rabbi. Rabbi Yaakov Lipsky, an outstanding product of the Chicago Community Kollel, led our congregation from 1994 to 1998. In 1996, our community suffered the loss of Rabbi Rine, z’l, marking almost a half-century of his Rabbinic leadership.

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Sat, May 25 2024 17 Iyyar 5784