History‎ > ‎

History Postings

Section 4

posted Jul 25, 2014, 4:49 PM by Ezrath Israel   [ updated Apr 3, 2018, 2:44 PM ]

Our Unique and Proud History

The Actors’ Temple was founded in 1917 as the West Side Hebrew Relief Association. Its leaders were Orthodox Jews who owned shops in the rough-and-tumble district called Hell's Kitchen, at the time one of the world's busiest steamship ports. The founders borrowed a Biblical nickname for God, Ezrath Israel, "the One who assists Israel," as the name for their benevolent little Jewish community center. At a time when show business people were not readily accepted in society, Rabbi Bernard Birstein and later Cantor Louis Malamud went to Broadway and made friends with Sophie Tucker, Red Buttons, and other actors working in show business. They provided a place where actors could be accepted and feel at home. The actors introduced their friends to the synagogue, and the rest, as they say, is history.

Section 3

posted Jul 22, 2014, 7:29 PM by Ezrath Israel   [ updated Dec 24, 2016, 12:48 PM ]

Our Earliest Beginnings

Talent from vaudeville, cabaret, nightclubs, television, and Broadway made the synagogue a true Actors’ Temple. Some members and congregants, many of whom were born into poor, hardworking immigrant families, included Al Jolson, Edward G. Robinson, Jack Benny, Milton Berle, Henny Youngman, Eddie Cantor, Burt Lahr, George Jessel, and countless other lesser-known actors, comedians, singers, playwrights, composers, musicians, writers, dancers and theatrical agents, along with sports figures like Sandy Koufax, Barney Ross, and Jake Pitler. Academy Award–winner Shelley Winters kept the High Holy Days in our sanctuary. The Three Stooges and Harpo Marx attended services too. Famous non-Jewish entertainers—such as Ed Sullivan, whose wife, the former Sylvia Weinstein, was Jewish, and Frank Sinatra—were also friends of Rabbi Birstein and the Temple.

Our historic building, constructed in 1923, has been designated a national landmark. The sanctuary features stained-glass memorials and bronze plaques to many of these beloved show business luminaries of yesteryear, including comedian Joe E. Lewis and singer Sophie Tucker, who headlined an annual benefit for the Temple on Broadway. And you’ll find many of their original headshots and biographies in our Actors’ Photo Gallery, on the stairwell walls. Collectively, this group of extraordinarily talented individuals made a contribution to American life through the arts that is beyond measure. The Actors’ Temple is a part of American history, Jewish history, and Show Business history.

Photo from NYC City Register Archives

Eventually the nightclubs closed, television went west and vaudeville disappeared. The Actors’ Temple declined along with the Times Square area, but the proud shul remained to anchor the neighborhood. A stroll through our part of midtown today confirms the resurgence of the Theater District and Hell's Kitchen. Block after block has sprouted condominiums, corporate offices, and more theaters. Actors Temple is resurgent too, adding members and staff, while evolving into a diverse congregation where every voice is heard--and respected.

Today’s congregation is progressive, egalitarian, eclectic, and post-denominational, using fresh approaches to enliven worship while maintaining deep connections to our Jewish roots. We provide community and self-expression, deeds of loving kindness, and caring. And we take great pride in carrying on our Jewish Show Business tradition by being a place of acceptance, spirituality, creativity, and love.

Actors-temple-2007 by Dmadeo - Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

Section 2

posted Jul 22, 2014, 7:14 PM by Ezrath Israel   [ updated Dec 24, 2016, 1:03 PM ]

Historical Documents and Pictures

Interesting Documents

Cigarette Fund

Letters to Rabbi Birtstein

Synagogue Bulletin from 1936

Stained Glass Gallery

Historic Photo Gallery

We count among our former members the entertainers: Al Jolson, Joe E. Lewis, Sophie Tucker, Edward G. Robinson, Moe and Curly of the Three Stooges, Jack Benny, Shelley Winters, Milton Berle, Henny Youngman, and many, many others.

The Three Stooges

Sophie Tucker

Jack Benny

Section 1

posted Jul 22, 2014, 7:12 PM by Ezrath Israel   [ updated Nov 17, 2015, 11:33 AM ]

Members and Friends

Current Performer Members & Friends

  • Tessa Albertson
  • Alexandra Berro
  • Aliyah Druth
  • Joe Franklin
  • Bob Greenberg
  • Steve Greenstein
  • Jackie Hoffman
  • Dave Konig
  • Jonathan Lovitz
  • Steven Scott
  • Neva Small
  • Peter Tedeschi
  • Stone & Stone
  • Doug Kleiman
  • Jonathan Demar
  • Russell Fischer

Historical Performers Member List

  • Joey Adams
  • Jerry Ames
  • Belle Baker
  • Phil Baker – Star of Radio
  • Barry Sisters:  Merna & Claire
  • Jack Benny
  • Milton Berle
  • Ben Bernie
  • Lew Brown - Composer
  • Red Buttons
  • Eddie Cantor
  • Sid Gary & Harold Gary
  • Harry Hirshfield
  • Moe, Curley, and Shemp Howard, The 3 Stooges
  • Willie & Eugene Howard
  • George Jessel
  • Al Jolson
  • Al Kelly
  • Bert Lahr
  • Oscar Levant
  • Joe E. Lewis
  • Ted & Adah Lewis
  • Abe Lyman - Bandleader
  • Jake Pearl - Actor
  • Jake Pitler – Baseball Player
  • George Price
  • Harry Richman – Pianist, Comedian, Singer
  • Ritz Brothers: Al, Jimmy, Harry,
  • Barney Ross - Prizefighter
  • Edward G. Robinson
  • Benny Rubin – Author, Actor, Director
  • Rubinoff - Violinist
  • Smith & Dale
  • Sophie Tucker
  • Albert Tucker (Son of Sophie)
  • William B. Williams
  • Shelley Winters
  • Henny Youngman

Performers' Friends Who Attended

  • Morey Amsterdam
  • Hank Greenberg
  • Danny Kaye
  • Sandy Koufax
  • Ella Logan
  • Eddie Leonard
  • Harpo Marx
  • Helen Menken
  • Harry Roth
  • Ed Sullivan – Hosted the Annual Benefit
  • Rose Goodstein
  • Dona Jean Levy
  • Helen Teddy Hall
  • Dale Vine, Eddy, Billy, Jeanette Vine
  • Israel Vineberg, & Augusta
  • George Gilbert Carl Timin
  • Rose Subber,
  • Anne Rappaport
  • Selma Walters
  • Charles Jacobs
  • Murray Posner
  • Alan King

Agents and Producers of the Past

  • Barney Balaban
  • Harry Brandt
  • Max Gordon
  • Phil Greenwald
  • Sam Grisman
  • Sam Harris
  • Charles C. Moskowitz – Loew’s Theaters
  • Charlie Rapp & Jimmy Rapp
  • Harry M. Warner

Famous Restauranteurs and Others

  • Max Asnas – Stage Delicatessen
  • Toots Shor
  • Louis Sobol - Journalist

Our historic plaques include well-known people such as

  • Barney Balaban
  • Merna Barry
  • Jack Benny
  • Ben Bernie
  • Bloch and Sully
  • Sam Harris
  • Harry Hirshfield
  • Al Kelly
  • Joe E. Lewis
  • Ted & Adah Lewis
  • George E. Price
  • Barney Ross
  • Mary Thomashevsky Silverstone
  • Joe Smith & Charles Dale
  • Sophie Tucker
  • William B. Williams

and many others!

1-4 of 4