Congregation Agudas Israel had its beginnings at the dawn of the twentieth century, when in 1902, a group of 27 men met on Clinton Street and founded the B’nai Israel Congregation. Refugees from Europe’s age-old conflicts, seeking religious tolerance, found in Cincinnati, the inspiration and warmth to nuture their hopes and raise their bruised spirits.
In 1904, the shul began to regularly rent a hall in Cincinnati’s West End. Rented halls were the only houses of worship that the new congregation knew for close to twenty years. The shul moved from location to location and remained relatively small, though there was a slow increase in membership that forced the group to regularly seek out a larger space. As with any growing body, serious difficulties were encountered and factional splits developed over questions which at the time seemed almost as vital as finding a permanent home. But strength came from mergers with other groups, the first of these in uniting with Congregation Agudath Achim to form a new body, the Anshe Shalom Romanian Harmony Congregation.
From 1924 to 1931, the congregation established its first synagogue on Clark St. and made great strides under the leadership of Rabbi J. Hochstein. However, with the migration of the Jewish community to Avondale, another move was already envisioned. The Talmud Torah thus became the new home for the group for two years.
Shortly before this, in 1927, a different congregation, Bnai Jacob, under the leadership of Rabbi Joseph Meyer Levine, had moved to Hale St. in Avondale. Rabbi Levine passed away in 1929. In 1931, land was purchased on Forest Ave. with the intent to build a larger synagogue and to memorialize their beloved rabbi. The congregation was thereby renamed The Bnai Jacob Congregation Beth Hakneseth Joseph Meyer, under the leadership of their new rabbi, Bzaleil Epstein.
In 1933, a major event took place. The Anshei Shalom and Bnai Jacob congregations united to form Congregation Agudas Israel Beth Hakneseth Joseph Meyer, with Rabbi Epstein as its leader. The name was eventually shortened to Agudas Israel, the current name of the congregation
Many challenges would soon come upon the congregation. Among them, the passing of Rabbi Epstein a few years later and great financial distress due to the death of many of the synagogues most supportive members. The shul was without a rabbinic leader for close to ten years and it was only due to the efforts of a committed membership and the Ladies Auxilary that these obstacles were overcome. In 1945, as the young men of numerous families returned home from action in World War II, it was decided that a new rabbi was absolutely essential. Rabbi Bernard Perlow was selected as rabbi.
In 1952, the congregation would hire a rabbi who led the congregation to greatness–Rabbi David I. Indich. As the Jewish population would move again from Avondale to the Roselawn/Golf Manor area, the synagogue considered another move. Rabbi Indich led the expanding congregation’s High Holiday services in the Golf Manor Civic Hall in 1955 and in 1956 a committee was formed to oversee the new relocation to Golf Manor. Groundbreaking was held that year, followed by the first services in temporary quarters in 1957. It would take ten years for the current beautiful synagogue structure to be completed. During this time, Rabbi Indich’s warmth and passion led to a membership of close to 300 families. Most of the families were raised in a traditional environs but were not necessarily fully observant. Rabbi Indich’s regard for his congregants and his vibrant personality was greatly responsible for being able to hold on to such individuals, many of whose children would leave orthodoxy. At the time, the shul was firmly established as the major orthodox congregation in Cincinnati as well as a leading orthodox congregation in the midwest.
In 1988, Rabbi Indich’s failing health required that the congregation select a new rabbi. Rabbi Hanan Balk, who had previously overseen the expansion of The Young Israel of Stamford, Ct. and who had overseen the building of its first synagogue, was chosen as rabbi. The transition from rabbi to rabbi was a smooth one. Rabbi Indich, now Rabbi Emeritus, passed away three years later, after serving the congregation for close to 40 years.
Rabbi Balk served the congregation for 24 years. During that time, he raised the level of learning and observance of many of the members of the congregation. In 2012, Rabbi Balk retired, and became Rabbi Emeritus of the congregation.
In January of 2013, Rabbi Pinchas Landis took over as Senior Rabbi. Rabbi Landis had been living in Cincinnati for 6 years prior to this, leading the Kollel Retreat Center and Congregation Ohr Chadash. In the Summer of 2014 the Landis family moved to Cleveland to direct Partners in Torah of Cleveland.
In the fall of 2014, Rabbi Stuart Lavenda was appointed as Rabbi at Golf Manor Synagogue (GMS). He has been serving the GMS community for close to 30 years, previously as Assistant Rabbi. Rabbi Lavenda graduated from Yeshiva University, where he received his rabbinic ordination and a MSW. He has also worked for the last 34 years at Standard Textile. Under the leadership of Rabbi Lavenda the congregation continues to thrive.