MSS 181

Temple Beth Or of the Deaf

Collection of Temple Beth Or of the Deaf, 1961-1998

Gallaudet University Archives Descriptive Summary

Repository: Gallaudet University Archives

Call No.: MSS 181


Title: Collection of Temple Beth Or of the Deaf, 1961-1998

Quantity: 11 linear feet (22 document boxes)

Abstract: This collection consists of the history of the Temple Beth Or of the Deaf in New York. Included in the collection is correspondence, minutes of the meetings, financial reports, program books, membership cards and books, photographs and objects.


Administrative Information

Acquisition Information: The collection of Temple Beth Or of the Deaf was donated to the Gallaudet University Archives by Alice Soll on November 22, 1999, and December 1, 2004.

Processed By: Michael J. Olson, 2010 December 7.

Processing Note:

Conditions on Use and Access: This collection is open to the public with no restrictions. Photocopies may be made for scholarly research.

Related material in the Archives


Historical Sketch

The Temple Beth Or of the Deaf’s origin began simply– a small group of individuals composed of Mr. and Mrs. Jack Ebin, Mrs. Alan Kreiger, and Harold Steinman met in the Ebins’ home to discuss the formation of a new Jewish congregation for the Deaf in New York City. The group was finally introduced to Rabbi Daniel L. Davis, Director of the New York Federation of Reform Synagogues, whose efforts were key in the establishment of the upcoming organization. On March 6, 1961, the Temple Beth Or of the Deaf (“Beth Or” in Hebrew means “House of Light”) was created in New York City. The organization’s purpose was to provide religious services and activities for Jewish deaf adults and Sunday school for children.

Rabbi Davis served as the spiritual leader during the early stages of development and was also instrumental in providing the members with a place of worship that they could attended regularly, Temple Sholom. Temple Beth Or of the Deaf’s first deaf student Rabbi, Alton Silver, conducted services at the temple beginning in 1963 until his untimely death in 1965. Mr. Milton Weinberg, from the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, also worked as a student Rabbi for the congregation. Harold Steinman served as the first president of Temple Beth Or of the Deaf from 1961 until 1963.

In 1962 the Temple Beth Or of the Deaf became affiliated with the national organization, the National Congress of Jewish Deaf, and was incorporated on September 29, 1964.
Sisterhood was organized on November 8, 1961; its first president was Mrs. Catherine Ebin. The Sisterhood operated under several facilities: they taught in Sunday schools, ran fundraising programs such as the annual Luncheon and Fashion Show, facilitated youth programs, held social events such as card games, and was in charge of collecting membership dues. The Sisterhood remained a strong backbone to the Temple Beth Or of the Deaf. Brotherhood was formed on March 11, 1963 and Barry Schwartzman was its first president. The purpose of the Brotherhood was to conduct outdoor activities such as picnics and other functions. Membership of the Brotherhood gradually declined a few years later and was disbanded around the 1970s.

A campaign for a new building began on August 4, 1964, under David A. Davidowitz, the first chairman. In 1968, the first attempt to purchase a new site in Long Island, New York, failed since another party had already purchased that property. Meanwhile, the congregation had purchased a plot at a cemetery in Deans, New Jersey, which would serve to hold 79 graves for deceased members. In 1969, a two-story townhouse was purchased; however, it was in need of renovation. A construction committee was formed in June of that year and its goal was to raise funds for improvements to the townhouse. Although the townhouse was not occupied, the members rented spaces in various locations to continue meetings and activities. On May 21, 1972, the congregation was forced to sell the property due to financial problems.

The members continued to search for a new home. Over the years, the congregation partook in many activities and religious services to keep the organization alive. However, membership started to dwindle a little bit every year, especially in the 1980s. Adding to the congregation’s troubles, a treasurer was involved in embezzling more than $40,000 over a five year period and was arrested on charges of forgery in 1997. Temple Beth Or of the Deaf was eventually closed down in November of 1999.

Scope and Content

The collection of Temple Beth Or of the Deaf consists of approximately 17,000 pages of correspondence, minutes, census record cards, constitution and by-laws, membership books, financial reports, building campaign reports, program books, brochures, directories, certificates, flyers, newspaper clippings, photographs and museum objects. The bulk of the collection dates from 1961 to 1997. The largest potions of the collection are correspondence, financial reports, building fund reports and Sisterhood files. Sisterhood files consist of program books for the Luncheon and Fashion Shows, a popular annual event for the members. There are general files that include various information about the Jewish religion, directories of membership congregations, newspaper clippings and articles about Jewish deaf people, and brochures about Temple Beth Or of the Deaf. Included in this collection are files of the National Congress Jewish Deaf.

Series Descriptions and Folder List

Series 1: Office Files

Boxes 1-11

Correspondence, Minutes, Constitution and By-Laws, Memberships, and Financial Reports.

Series 2: Building Files

Boxes 11-12

Correspondence, Minutes, Real Estate Deeds, and Reports.

Series 3: Sisterhood Files

Boxes 12-15

Minutes, Constitution and By-Laws, Financial Reports, and Program books.

Series 4: General Files

Box 15-18

Brochures, Calendars, Certificates, Directories, Flyers, Newspaper Clippings, Program Books, and Jewish Religion Materials.

Series 5: National Congress of Jewish Deaf Files

Box 19

Brochures, Constitution and By-Laws, Correspondence, Reports, and Program Books.

Series 6: Photographs and Objects

Boxes 20 – 22

Photographs and Museum Objects.

Folders List

Click Here to View the Folders List

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