How to hire a rabbi in the 1950s

Are you old enough to remember what correspondence and conducting synagogue business was like in the 1950s?

The archives of Jewish Museum Milwaukee, a program of Milwaukee Jewish Federation, acquired a treasure trove of documents from Anshe Poale Zedek Synagogue in December. The Manitowoc synagogue had close to 200 families in the 1950s, according to former member Bess Schwartz, who saw to the donation of the records. The 92-year-old lives at Ovation Chai Point with her husband, Milton.

If you were to build a time machine and travel back to the 1950s to hire a rabbi, you’d have no LinkedIn or email to get the job done. Brace yourself, these 1950s synagogue records contain not even one emoji:

1. Rabbi wanted.

The synagogue had a problem in early September 1954 – no rabbi! Sept. 27, 1954 was to be erev Rosh Hashanah and the synagogue leaders had written letters to Jewish organizations in New York and the Midwest asking for a High Holidays rabbi. The congregation received this telegram of assurance on Sept. 10, 1954 – a rabbi could join them!

2. Poor Manitowoc!

Never mind that Sept. 10, 1954 telegram. Subsequent records show Manitowoc found itself a rabbi locally for the High Holy Days. Then, they found a permanent rabbi, too. Things were looking up. Their new Rabbi Dershowitz was to lead the Anshe Poale Zedek Synagogue. But then he took a position with “New York State hospitals” at the last minute, according to this Oct. 15, 1954 letter. “We are still in need of a rabbi and if anything our situation has become much more critical,” writes Arden A. Muchin, chairman of the synagogue rabbi committee.

3. Meet you at the train.

It doesn’t appear the rabbi committee and a Rabbi Benjamin Gonsky of New Jersey ever came to terms for his service at Manitowoc. But they did invite Gonsky to visit in this Nov. 1, 1954 letter, with plans to meet him at the train in Manitowoc at 2:36.

4. Ad in the Chronicle!

Obviously, the best way to reach anybody in any century is an ad in the Chronicle, yes? Here, the search committee is placing an ad seeking a permanent rabbi on Jan. 18, 1955, three months after they said their situation had become “much more critical.”

5. Would move for an increase.

Based on the Chronicle ad, ads in national Jewish publications and other efforts, applications poured in. This rabbi in New Hampshire wrote in his Jan. 18, 1955 application letter, “My congregation appreciates very much my profound knowledge of the Talmud and my liberal approach to all religious problems …. However, I am willing to change my present position in order to improve my present economical circumstances. My weekly salary is $70 per week and a free rent.”

6. Rabbi found!

The rabbi the synagogue was destined to hire, Phillip Rabinowitz, telegrammed on Wednesday, Feb. 9, 1955 that he’d not arrive on that day and would have to arrive on Sunday. The synagogue would have several different rabbis over the years – Schwartz recalls that Rabinowitz had a beautiful voice.

7. Thanks for applying.

The rabbi committee file is thick with applications, many typed, some handwritten. This thanks-for-applying letter dated Feb. 23, 1955 is one of several in the files, apparently ready to be sent out.