We’ve recorded the history of this great Jewish community in an eight-minute mini-documentary, produced in cooperation with the Jewish Historical Society of Michigan and with the support of many members of our community. We hope you enjoy this film!
Temple Beth-El’s rich history dates to the late 19th century. Julius Myers was one of the early Jewish residents of Alpena. Believed to have settled in the area before 1867, the successful clothier would later serve as president of Alpena’s Hebrew Benevolent Society, which was founded in 1875 for the purpose of “buying a burial ground.” By 1887, there were some forty-five Jewish adults who had settled in the area, finding great opportunity in the area’s booming lumbering trade.
Alpena’s Jewish cemetery, established in 1875, has been well-maintained by the City of Alpena since 1989. Named the Hebrew Benevolent Cemetery, it sits centrally-located in the much larger city cemetery located off Washington Avenue. The Jewish section has its own entrance, clearly marked by two stone columns that are engraved with the words “Hebrew Benevolent Cemetery.”
In addition to establishing and maintaining the cemetery, the Hebrew Benevolent Society also cared for Jewish settlers when illness struck. In early 1877, the newly-elected officers appointed committees charged with writing a formal charter and with securing “a room” in which to hold regular meetings, primarily for prayer and worship.
The Hebrew Benevolent society began to organize for a synagogue, forming a congregation known as Beth Tefelol. Once that entity formally separated from the Society and acquired a corporate existence, it adopted the name “Temple Beth-El.” The first organizational meeting of the new congregation was held on Sunday, October 19, 1890. It was at that meeting that arrangements were made for the purchase of a frame building on Hitchcock Street in Alpena for $1,100. The Jewish congregation concluded its negotiations for the property on February 13, 1891, then moved the building to its present location on White Street.
Temple Beth-El became – and still is – a sanctuary holding the sacred Torah scrolls, a gathering place for Sabbath and high holy day services as well as Torah study. It is the center of Jewish life for the Jewish citizens of Alpena, Cheboygan, Harrisville, Hillman, Hubbard Lake, Oscoda, Presque Isle, and Rogers City, and is one of America’s relatively few surviving 19th Century synagogues.
The interior of this historical synagogue remains largely as it was when first established. The original desk now serves as the bimah, the iron and frosted-glass eternal light or Ner Tamid is hung, while the foot pump organ and the quaint rabbi’s quarters give one a sense of stepping back in time.
In the past few years, the leadership of Temple Beth-El has undertaken a restoration initiative. Thanks to a lot of sweat equity and community donations, this small synagogue is alive and thriving on Michigan’s beautiful coastline. New members and community neighbors are welcomed to visit our historic home and worship with us.