Jewish pioneers gathered at family grove for High Holy Days
Orlando's Jewish community celebrates a wedding at the Levy grove in 1916. (Florida State Archives / September 13, 2007)
More than 80 years ago, the year 5686 was proudly placed on the cornerstoneof first synagogue to be constructed in Orlando, at the northwest corner ofChurch Street and Eola Drive near Lake Eola.
The Florida Jewish Heritage Trail, a publication of the state Division ofHistorical Resources, features the site of the 1920s synagogue and otherCentral Florida locales that reflect the Jewish experience in Florida.
But the celebrations of the High Holy Days in the Orlando area go backyears earlier, as lifelong resident, business leader and historian JosephWittenstein recalled in the history of Central Florida's Jewish community heprepared during the nation's Bicentennial celebration in 1976.
Wittenstein's history is available at the Brechner Research Library of theOrange County Regional History Center.
When Wittenstein was a young boy, services for Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippurtook place at the home of the Moses Levy family.
Like several of the area's pioneering Jewish families, the Levys had comefrom Pittsburgh. They purchased a 24-acre grove on what is now EdgewaterDrive.
Wittenstein was born nearby in 1914, on the Shader farm bordering LakeFairview that his maternal grandparents, Israel and Rose Shader, bought aftertheir arrival in 1913.
Israel Shader brought from Pittsburgh the first Torah scroll to the Orlandoarea, Wittenstein wrote.
The Torah was kept at the Levy grove.
Wittenstein remembers worshippers arriving on foot and by buggy andhorseback to attend High Holy Days services on the veranda that wrapped aroundtwo sides of the Levy home.
The visitors would spend the night between the first and second days ofRosh Hashana at the Levy home as well as the eve of Yom Kippur, the Day ofAtonement that marks the conclusion of the High Holy Days, at the grove.
"They slept in the various rooms and on the veranda surrounding the house"because "the walk in the deep sand to their homes and the return would be toostrenuous," Wittenstein wrote.
The horses that brought the worshippers to services were housed and fed inthe surrounding grove.
Wittenstein dated Orlando's first synagogue to a purchased building (nolonger there) at West Central Boulevard and Terry Avenue -- a small building"that had formerly belonged to a Seventh-day Adventist Church."
"Congregation Ohev Shalom was organized in the home of Harry Kanner in1917," Wittenstein's history continues.
Kanner's home, near the corner of West Pine Street and Terry Avenue, "was ashort block to the south of the first synagogue."
As the 1920s began, the congregation was keeping pace with Orlando'sgrowth.