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Exploring Spokane’s Jewish history

October 5, 2018

The 2014 discovery of two record books detailing the early history of Judiasm in Spokane has inspired a program at Temple Beth Shalom on Friday.

The temple will open its doors to the greater Spokane community as historian and former Spokesman-Review reporter Jim Kershner presents some of his research into the history of the local Jewish community dating back to the mid-1860s. The two books dating from that time will also be on display.

In December 2014, two volumes of meeting records were found in the boiler room of the Odd Fellow’s building downtown and placed in the care of Larry Grossman, the archivist at Temple Beth Shalom, for safe keeping and cataloging.

Grossman and his wife, Shirley, have been involved with Temple Beth Shalom for more than 50 years and over the past four, the discovery of these books has sparked a deeper desire to share more of the temple’s history with the community.

Written beginning in 1890, the books contain an account of some of the first meetings of the Jewish community of Spokane.

“You know what board meetings are like, they can be pretty humdrum,” Shirley Grossman said. “But all these different things from that time about what transpired at a board meeting of this brand new fledgling community, hiring the rabbi for how much a month … it’s just interesting.”

In elegant, antique handwriting, the first page outlines the group’s plans to build what would become Washington’s first Jewish house of worship, beating out Seattle’s Ohaveth Sholum by just four days. The local community named their new sanctuary Temple Emanu-el.

The parishioners of Temple Emanu-el followed Reform Judaism. So, when the local conservative orthodox community started to grow, a schism formed. Several periods of separation and reconciliation ensued. Temple Beth Shalom was dedicated in 1969 and for the past few years has served both conservative and reform congregations.

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