AGUDAT ACHIM

Jews from the Russian Empire arrived in Schenectady in the 1880s, as they did in the neighboring communities of Albany and Troy, leading to a sudden growth in the number of synagogues. While most accounts suggest that Congregation Agudat Achim formed in 1890 it appears to have begun in 1888 when the first minyan met and became a formal congregation in 1889 with the drafting of a constitution. The congregation made it clear that its members would follow the minhag Polin, the ritual followed by Jews of Poland and Lithuania, similar to that of Congregation Beth El Jacob in Albany. Although Orthodox, like the members of Gates of Heaven in the 1880s, that congregation followed a German ritual, that recent immigrants from the Russian Empire found foreign and unacceptable. In addition, this new congregation insisted that all congregational business be conducted in Yiddish, reflecting the mother tongue of most East European Jews, and all officers must have fluency in Yiddish. Ironically, the constitution included words in German to make it sound high class, and not the work of recent immigrants with limited education. Founding members agreed to expel congregants who did not marry according to Jewish custom, meaning if they married Gentiles, and those who did not follow Orthodox ritual and laws.
Initially, the congregation met in a hall on State and Jay streets, and later at the Center Street Opera House. A group of Hungarian Jews joined the congregation but they split off to form Ohab Zedek in 1893, rejoined and left for good in March 1902. Differences in ritual and country of origin led to frequent synagogue splits making “Jewish unity an oxymoron,” according to historian Hasia Diner. By 1903, the congregation bought a site on Nott Terrace and began construction of a new synagogue in 1907. The laying of the cornerstone made front page news in June 1908. In 1910, the congregation had 1,200 people show for the High Holidays, and Gentiles called it the Nott Terrace synagogue and the “leading orthodox congregation in the city.” Conflict over Rabbi Solomon Hinden led him and his followers to leave in 1914 to form Orthodox Adath Israel. By the 1920s, Americanization of the second generation led to a decision to modernize services by affiliating with Conservative Judaism in 1927, similar to the emergence of Conservative congregations in Albany and Troy. Some older members dissented and left Agudat Achim to join Orthodox congregations. Just as Gates of Heaven became the only Reform community in Schenectady, Agudat Achim remains the only Conservative congregation in Schenectady County. Growth of membership and the movement of the Jewish community from downtown to the suburbs led to the construction of a new building in 1971 on the Troy-Schenectady Road.

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