Congregation Ahavath Sholem (Lovers of Peace) [Jefferson (Ave) Shul] records
- Majority of material found within ( 1921-1961)
- Majority of material found within ( 1990-2012)
- Congregation Ahavath Sholem (Buffalo, N.Y.) (Organization)
Language of Materials
Terms of Access
.2 Linear Feet (1 half manuscript box)
The former Congregation Ahavath Sholem also known as Jefferson Avenue Shul or the Jefferson Shul was founded in 1890. According to Buffalo Jewish historian, Selig Adler, it was officially incorporated two years later as “Ahavas Sholem” on March 21, 1892. (Adler, Selig and Thomas E. Connelly. From Ararat to Suburbia: The History of the Jewish Community of Buffalo, Philadelphia, Jewish Publication Society of America, 1960, pp.196-197). It is likely that the first members met in private homes and rented rooms, but this specific information is not available. The synagogue was Orthodox in religious practice and members were new immigrants from Russia, Eastern Europe. By 1897 the Jefferson Shul was home to the Talmud Torah – Buffalo’s first city wide supplementary Hebrew and Religious School. In 1903, a $28,000 dollar building was erected by the congregation at 407 Jefferson Ave (sometimes listed as 411) on the existing Ahavath Sholem site. This building has since become a local iconic landmark because of its Moorish revival “onion” shaped dome. The active life of the synagogue continued through to 1954 based on the minute book entries included in this collection. In 1957, however, after the synagogue had lain moribund for three years, it was reopened for a visit by the Lord Mayor of Dublin, Robert Briscoe, an orthodox Jew who was on a tour of the United States (Buffalo Jewish Review, March 22, 1957, p.1). By 1960, the building was no longer a synagogue and was the spiritual home of Saints Home Church of God. In 1982, the church changed hands again, becoming Greater New Hope Church of God in Christ, and the buildings current owner.
The Ahavath Sholem building was the largest synagogue building built in East Buffalo. It had three levels. There was a separate “ladies balcony” following orthodox practice to separate men’s and women’s worship areas, as well as a lower level for study. The building is unique among synagogues in Buffalo and strikingly designed with a metal onion dome. The front of the building was completed with honey yellow colored bricks. A line of three magen david, (Stars of David) ran from the top of the entranceway doors, to the large stained glass window in the front of the building. (These decorative glass windows were removed when it became a church in 1960). The building was topped with decorative brickwork and a set of four intricate finials sat on the topmost corners. Inside the building was a bimah (altar) that held the torah scrolls in an ornate ark. Remnants of the bimah can still be seen inside the former synagogue, however, the aron kodesh was bricked up. A special set of stairs from the basement to the bimah enabled the Rabbi and Cantor to make their entrance without walking through the congregation. The women’s balcony was shaped in a horseshoe below a decorated ceiling that included a stenciled pattern. The back of the building may date from the mid nineteenth century and have been a former church. Photographs of the synagogue exterior when it functioned as a synagogue, are rare, except for a low quality reproduction in Oscar Israelowitz, Synagogues of the United States: A Photographic and Architectural Survey, Israelowitz Publishing, NY, 1992, on page 69. An interior photograph in a clipping from the Buffalo News at Buffalo Central library provides a glimpse of the bimah (Buffalo News, April 18, 1931).
From this same clipping we learn that the synagogue was the largest synagogue on the east side. Ahavath Sholem was located in the center of the east side of Buffalo, a few buildings away from William Street which was the main artery of Jewish life in Buffalo for decades. It was here on the East Side that over two-thirds of the Jewish population lived at the turn of the last century, and it was the place where many of today’s Jewish families can recall their own relatives’ early beginnings. While nearby William Street was the mercantile hub of the East Side Jewish community, Jefferson Avenue was the central religious and cultural heart. Across the road from Ahavath Sholem, stood the JCB or Jewish Community Building (a forerunner to the Jewish Community Centers). The Jefferson Avenue Shul was used as a meeting area for other community events that were too large for the JCB, as well as a temporary home for a community-wide supplementary religious school. Other synagogues stood nearby, all of which have since been razed.
Ahavath Sholem had a basement that it used as a Hebrew School. This was unusual for an East Buffalo Congregation and reflected a level of wealth that enabled them to build such a large multilevel congregational building. Popular memory recalls Ahavath Sholem as the “stylish shul” on the East Side. Leaders of the synagogue would appear in cutaway coats and silk hats on Shabbat and festivals, and at one time, the congregation was said to have over 700 worshipers on the High Holidays. (Buffalo News, dated April 18, 1931). In the 1930s, Cantor Hyman Schulsinger was employed as a Cantor leader and the community underwent a small renaissance. When he left in 1940, however, the Congregation did not find a replacement.
Spellings and names of the congregation vary. Throughout the 1920s-1960s documents included in this collection, it is referred to as Ahavath Sholem, but it is also commonly known by the Ashkenazi spelling: Ahavas Sholem, as well as English names in clippings: the Jefferson Street Shul, the Jefferson Avenue Shul and the Jefferson Shul. At the time of its building in 1903, the road was a “Street” and only later became an “Avenue” and this would account for the various names. In writing a short piece about the congregation’s history, Selig Adler had access to the early minutes of the synagogue, now lodged at the American Jewish Archives, Cincinnati (Congregation Ahavas Sholem (Buffalo, N.Y.). Minute book, October 6, 1895-January 29, 1905. 400 p. SC-1478 Minute book of Ahavas Sholem Synagogue donated by Eli Roth in 1960.
As of 2011, the building was threatened with an emergency demolition order after being abandoned by the former owners Greater New Hope Church of God in Christ. The demolition was temporarily suspended when a local coalition of community preservationists, spearheaded by David Torke, galvanized support for a plan to rehabilitate and reuse the building. A future adaptive reuse is still at the planning stage as of August 2012. This new volunteer preservation group is not the first interest group formed to save the building. In 1997, the former temple was given local landmark status and a preservation plan was drawn up. Later in 2003, the building received a $10,000 grant from the New York Landmarks Conservancy Sacred Sites program to repair the roof. Neither of these earlier efforts was sustained long enough for a complete repair and restoration.
Accruals and Additions
- Buffalo (N.Y.) -- Religious life and customs
- Congregation Ahavath Sholem (Buffalo, N.Y.) -- Archives
- Fliers (printed matter)
- Jewish archives -- New York (State) -- Buffalo
- Jews -- New York (State) -- Buffalo -- Archives
- Minutes (administrative records)
- State University of New York at Buffalo -- Archives
- Synagogues -- New York (State) -- Buffalo
- Finding Aid for the Congregation Ahavath Sholem (Lovers of Peace) [Jefferson (Ave) Shul] records
- Finding aid prepared by Chana Revell Kotzin.
- Description rules
- Language of description
- The arrangement and description of the records of the Congregation Ahavath Sholem (Lovers of Peace) [Jefferson (Ave) Shul were made possible by funding obtained through the Foundation for Jewish Philanthropies, and the Bureau of Jewish Education.