My house shall be called a house of prayer for all people. - Isaiah 56:7


Our History

Congregation House of Israel

Our History

In the Beginning

1908 picnicCongregation House of Israel of Hot Springs was organized in 1875 by 20 families, utilizing a small room as its meeting place.  It is told that the families had been worshipping together since 1872, but without a formal name. 

According to some records, the first Jewish settler in Hot Springs was Jacob Kempner, who arrived in 1856 from Cracow, Galicia, and who operated the stagecoach between Little Rock and Hot Springs.

In 1876, Emanuel Burgauer, a Confederate veteran who had been taken prisoner by the Union forces at Vicksburg, was appointed by Leo Mayer, then President of the congregation, to find a suitable place for building a temple.  The Jewish services on the High Holy Days in 1875 were conducted in rented quarters on the 2nd floor of a store adjacent to the present six-story First Federal Savings and Loan building.  In May 1881, property was purchased on Central Avenue and Olive Street. 

Photo: 1908 Picnic. Click thumbnail above to view photo and captions full size.

Fire and Flood

groundbreaking 1965The first temple building was completed in 1885, but damaged by fire in 1896.  During the period that it was being rebuilt, worship services were conducted in the First Methodist Church.

The temple was included in the 33 city blocks that were consumed by flames in the “Great Fire” of February 25, 1905, and all the temple records were lost.  In May of that year, the property was sold and the current property (corner of Quapaw and Market streets) was purchased. 

Another fire on September 16, 1913, engulfed the building, and again, many precious historical records were lost.  During that fire, it is reported that Billy Gross (founder of Gross Mortuary and great uncle of Fannie McLaughlin) rushed into the flames and saved the Torah scroll.  That scroll is still presently in use in the congregation.  And in 1924, the “great flood” of that year took its toll and virtually all remaining historical records for the congregation were lost. 

Photo: 1965 groundbreaking. Click thumbnail above to view photo and captions full size.

Spiritual Leaders

1894 - 1901: Rabbi Frank Louis Rosenthal
Born in 1865 and educated at New York City College.  Initiated the movement for the establishement of the hospital for arthritis, which became the Leo N. Levi Hospital. 
1901 – 1902:  Rabbi E.L. Schreiber
Born and educated in Germany, author of The Bible from the Viewpoint of Modern Science, and Reform Judaism and it’s Pioneers.
1902-1941:  Rabbi Abraham Benedict Rhine
Educated at the University of Cincinnati and Hebrew Union College.  Married to Annette Weiner of Hot Springs in 1905, he served as a member of the Hot Springs Board of Education from 1925 – 1941, and was it’s president from 1931 – 1933.  He also served on the Executive Committee of the Arkansas Tuberculosis Association and the Arkansas Industrial School for Girls, as well as the American Academy for Jewish Research, the B’nai Brith,  Rotary International, and the National Jewish Welfare Board.  He was elected to the Board of Governors of Hebrew Union College.  Author of numerous books and articles, including a translation of the five volumes of Graetz’s History of the Jews from German into English.
1941-1943:   Rabbi Martin M. Perley
Education:  McGill University and the Jewish Institute of Religion.  Also served as Executive Director of Leo N. Levi Hospital.
1943 - 1945:  Rabbi Frank Minsker
Education:  University of Cincinnati and Hebrew Union College.
1945-1949:  Rabbi Wolli Kaelter
Education:  University of Cincinnati and Hebrew Union College.
Also served as president of the Hot Springs Symphony Society
1949-1951:  Rabbi Martin M. Weitz
Education:  University of Cincinnati, Hebrew Union College and Harvard Chaplain’s School
1951-1956:  Rabbi Samson A. Shain
Education:  Harvard University, Columbia University and Jewish Institute of Religion
1956-1974:  Rabbi Albert A. Michels
Education:  University of Michigan, Jewish Institute of Religion.  Doctorate at the University of Colorado.  Chaplain of Levi Hospital.  President of Hot Springs Ministerial Alliance.
1974 - 1981:  Rabbi Percy Selvin Goldberg
Rabbi of Manchester Reform Synagogue in England from 1940 - 1974. Although his Synagogue was bombed in 1941, under his leadership no congregational services were missed.  Rabbi Goldberg died suddenly during the High Holy Days in 1981, and his Yom Kippur sermon was delivered by his good friend, Reverand Doug Dickens of the First Baptist Church in Hot Springs
1983 - 1985:  Rabbi Thomas Friedman
Moved to Temple Israel, the oldest synagogue in Columbus, and one of the founding members of the Union For Reform Judaism.
1986 - 1988:  Rabbi Jay Heyman
A native of Little Rock, Arkansas.  Ordained in 1971 by the Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati, Ohio, and in 1998 received Doctor of Divinity Degree.  Currently rabbi of Congregation Kol Hadash in San Francisco, CA.
1988 - 1989:  Student Rabbi Brett Isserow
A Native of Johannisberg, South Africa and ordained by the Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati, Ohio.  Currently Senior Rabbi of Beth El Hebrew Congregation of Alexandria, Virginia
1989 - 1991:  Rabbi Angela Graboys-Rudner
Education:  Graduated Brown University, 1984.  Graduated Hebrew Union College, Cincinnati, Ohio, 1989.  First full-time female rabbi in Arkansas.
1991 - 1994:  Rabbi Matthew L. Friedman
Native of Burlingame, California.
Education:  B.A. Biology, Anthropology and Entironmental Studies; Macalester College, St. Paul, Minnisota.  M.A. Regional Planning, University of North Carolina.  Master of Hebrew Letters and Rabbinical ordination, Hebrew Union College, Cincinnati, Ohio
1994 - 2001:  Rabbi Harley Karz-Wagman
Law degree from UCLA in 1974.  Ordained by Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati, Ohio; 1984.  Hillel Director in Boulder, Colorado, Tucson, Arizona and New Orleans, Louisiana.  Currently Senior Rabbi for Temple of Israel in Wilmington, North Carolina
2001 - 2002: Student Rabbi Debra Dressler
Mother lived in Hot Springs Village, Arkansas.  Currently Senior Rabbi of Temple Israel, London, Ontario, Canada
2003 - 2007:  Rabbi Vicki Hollander
Education:  University of Cincinnati and Hebrew Union College, Cincinnati, Ohio.  Honorary Doctorate, Hebrew Union College, 2005.  Cerified Marriage and Family Therapist, Antioch University, Seattle, WA.  First rabbi of Congregation Eitz Or, Seattle, WA.  Currently rabbi of Congregation Sharreth Israel, Lubbock, Texas
2007 - 2011:  Rabbi Jerome Fox
Education:  New York University and Hebrew Union College - Jewish Institute of Religion, New York City, NY.  Master of Hebrew Letters, Hebrew Union College, New York, 1975.  Honorary Doctorate, HUC, NYC, 2000

2012 - 2015: Rabbi Sheldon Kleinman
Rabbinical training: Hebrew Theological Seminary, Chicago. Ordination: Jewish Spiritual Leaders Institute, NY, NY.
2011 - 2017:  Rabbi Richard Chapin
Education:  Ordained by Hebrew Union College, 1976 -  Assistant Dean, Hebrew Union College  - Doctrate of Hebrew Letters, Hebrew Union College, 1990.  .  Associate Rabbi Congregation Emanu El, New York City, NY - Rabbi Greenwich Reform Synagogue, Greenwich, CT.  Rabbi Temple Israel, West Palm Beach, FL.
2018 - Present: Rabbi Sheldon Kleinman
Rabbinical training: Hebrew Theological Seminary, Chicago. Ordination: Jewish Spiritual Leaders Institute, NY, NY.



Temple Administration

Due to the loss of historical records (as outlined above),  an absolutely accurate list of board membership is not possible.  However, the following list of Board presidents through 1974 is considered to be reliable.  The list is in alphabetical order.

Dr. Alex Benedikt

Dr. Martin Lax

Dave Burgauer

Jay Leiber

Emanuel Burgauer Phil Levy
Leon Dinkelspiel David Lockwood
Henry Fellheimer Leo Mayer
Paul Forshberg Albert Mendel
Leo Gartenberg Hubert Mendel
Robert Gartenberg Bernard Rephan
Lewis Goltz Ed I. Rephan
H. Goodman Dr. Joseph L. Rosenzweig
Billy Gross Ed. N. Roth
Walter Kleinman Bernard Silverman
Harry Kupperman Gus Strauss
Dave Laser Dr. Samuel D. Weil
Al Lasky Samuel White

The late Dave Burgauer, former president of Arkansas Bank and Trust Company, was the first to be Bar Mitzvah (Son of the Commandments) in 1887.  The late Mrs. Bertha Newman was the first girl to be confirmed in the congregation, and it was in the home of her mother that Sunday School classes were first held.



Until the organization of the National Federation of Temple sisterhoods in 1912, what is now the Temple Sisterhood of Hot Springs was known as the Ladies Aid Society of the Temple.  The original membership numbered twenty-eight, and the first president was Mrs. Emanuel Burgauer.  Dues were fifty cents per month.  It was, in truth, an aid society, as its main project was aiding needy families, several of whom received regular monthly help.  Within the Aid Society, a Mother’s club was organized and funds were raised through the media of bazaars and dinners. 

When National was organized, the Ladies Aid Society became the Temple Sisterhood, and the aims, purposes and ideals outlined by the National Federation of Temple Sisterhoods became the core of the organization.

Current Synagogue

SancturaryThe current administration area, completed in 1957 consisted of the rabbi’s study, office, school classrooms and auditorium.  The auditorium was named Burgauer Hall in honor of Dave and Carrie Burgauer, who contributed substantially to Temple as well as Civic life for many years.  In 1961, it was felt that the sanctuary, built in 1905, should be replaced.  It was razed, and during the interim period services were held in Burgauer Hall.  The new sanctuary was designed by local architect I.G. McDaniel.  Combining the use of ancient and modern indigenous and foreign building materials, the structure conveys  a religious message through Architectural symbolism.  Praised by visitors from the world over, the design is a unique harmony of rock, water, alabaster, un-hewn stone and native wood.

groundbreakingThe ascent to Sinai to receive the Ten Commandments is symbolized in the incline from the pulpit to the Ark which contains the Torah scrolls.  Occupying a prime place on the alter is an eighteen foot high monolith, a symbol of man’s enlightenment and freedom of choice, truth and spirit.  When the Torah is brought down to the lower altar and placed into the position for reading adjacent to the monolith, it is in a line with Mount Sinai, at the base of the symbolic Sinai, built of Arkansas rock and alabaster.  The first Bar Mitzvah in the new sanctuary was Jeffrey Rosenzweig. 

Photos: (top) Current sanctuary. (Bottom) Sanctuary groundbreaking. Click thumbnails to view photos full size.