From 1911 to 1944, Hugo Hecht served as Lay Leader. A dedicated and spiritual man, well versed in the bible and Hebrew, he conducted the services and wrote the sermons. He presided at funerals and was treasurer and secretary. Finally after a number of years, Temple officers voted to pay him $20.00 a month. During his lifetime, Hugo Hecht was also the mainstay of the local B’nai B’rith Lodge. A dedication service for Beth Israel was held on February 23, 1923. Mrs Aileen Dortch Sherwood was organist. Ferd Frank presented the key to C.H. Blum, president of the congregation and Hugo Hecht conducted all the service. Daisy Zemurray and Julia Saks Freibaum gave solos to Property Valuations. Little Lillian Solomon lit the eternal light. L. Blackburn sang a selection and Dr. Morris Newfield of Birmingham gave the consecration address. The Rev. E.C. Seamon brought greetings from “Sister Congregations”.
Prior to the dedication, services began in the finished Temple. The first service was held in September 1922, for the High Holy Days. The building committee had raised $30,000.00 to pay for the lot and the building at 8th and Chestnut Streets. At that time, the officers were: C.H. Blum, Ferd Frank, Albert Hagedorn, Hugh Hecht, I. Zemurray, Ike Haas and Ike Saks. They had come a long way from 4th Street to the Odd Fellows Hall on Walnut and 6th Streets. Here for one year, 1910 to 1911, Rabbi Ferdinand Hirsch, a student, came to Gadsden each second Sunday. He guided Sunday School in the morning and held services in the afternoon. From the Odd Fellows Hall, worship was moved to the annex of the First Methodist Church where Sunday School classes were conducted as well. Always closely associated with the non-Jewish Community, the builders of Temple Beth Israel chose to inscribe above the doorway “Love Thy Neighbor As Thyself.” That phrase has continued to be a guiding principal. On November 24, 1924, Beth Israel joined the Union of American Hebrew Congregations, the representative body of Reform Judiasm, becoming a part of the larger U.S. Jewish community.
A small paragraph in the newspaper tells of the 10th anniversary of the Temple. It was celebrated with a musical program by Daisy Zemurray and John Perry Carruth, a Purim feast with pageant and a Tom Thumb wedding.
By September, 1946, the tiny nucleus of members had grown to 30 families and they now felt the need of a full-time Rabbi. They chose Rabbi Ernst Appel. On March 21, 1948 there were 25 candles on the Temple cake. Rabbi Adolph Phillipsborn conducted the service commemorating this anniversary. The Sisterhood gave the Temple a new organ and the choir and music was under the direction of Janice Lowi, as it had been since 1924. In 25 years the congregation had grown from 10 families to 30 families in 1923 and to 70 families in 1948. In that year, there were 35 children in Sunday School, a Youth Group and a small library.
An unforgettably tragic incident occured at the services to dedicate the Zemurray addition to the Temple on March 25, 1960, (the addition consists of five Sunday School classrooms, a large vestry, and a large kitchen). During the services, a home-made incendiary bomb was thrown into the sancturary. Alan Cohn and Alvin Lowi were both shot by the bomber as they rushed out of the Temple to apprehend him. By the grace of God both recovered. The whole city, shocked and grieved, joined our congregation in a community service the week following the bombing.
During all these years of growth and accomplishment, the ladies of the congregation, first as the Temple Aid Society in 1911 and then as the Sisterhood, worked untiringly and successfully to support the house of worship and the comgregation. There is no record of what was done during World War I, but we know there were soldiers here. We also know that Hannah Hagedorn made dish-pans full of her famous German potato salad for rallies and military get-togethers. During World War II, the congregation worked actively with the many Jewish soldiers stationed at Fort McClellan and then with those at Camp Sibert in Gadsden. Oneg Shabbats were held at Temple and at the camp. Passover Seders for the soldiers wiere prepared by Sisterhood members. The Jewish Wives Club met at our temple. All during World War II, Sisterhood members faithfully rolled bandages and knitted warm scarves for over-seas use. The Ladies Auxiliary affilated with the National Federation of Sisterhoods in 1930 and became a Sisterhood. Charter members were: Fedora Haas, Lillie Rosenbaum, Daisy Zemurray, Lillian Frenkel, who was president, and Sadie Frankel who was secretary for over 30 years.
Jeanette Freibaum was the first Cemetery chairman. Through Sisterhood a second Torah was dedicated in 1961, both adorned with mantles, crowns and shields. A committee improved the appearance of the cemetery and continues to care for it. While the Sisterhood has sponsored many improvements in the Temple Building, it has not neglected to work for benefit of the social and cultural climate of the community. It has supported the Sunday School, the youth group and the library. In 1963, the library was named the Rabbi Joseph Utschen Library as a memorial to that beloved Rabbi who contributed so much to our congregation. On April 23 1972, the Sisterhood sponsored its first