The Jewish temple played a role in early Fremont
After nearly a century in Fremont, Jewish residents of Sandusky County had their own home to gather for worship, education, and social activities in the building that now houses the County Historical Society Museum. by Sandusky.
As the Jewish population of Fremont grew, members of Beth Israel purchased the Holderman property at the corner of Birchard and Park Avenues and on August 30, 1942, the new Temple Beth Israel was dedicated.
The Beth Israel sanctuary could accommodate about 65 people, and the temple also had a library, study space, meeting rooms, and a kosher kitchen.
In the late 1940s and early 1960s, the Jewish community in Fremont is said to have peaked in numbers. About 50 families were affiliated with Beth Israel. During part of this period Beth Israel continued to meet weekly on Fridays for a Shabbat service and major Jewish holidays were observed.
By the late 1970s, Fremont’s Jewish community had dwindled in numbers, and in 1980 the trustees put their synagogue up for sale. Fifteen households were members at the time.
In 1981, the Sandusky County Historical Society purchased the property. The directors of Beth Israel involved in the sale were Robert Gilberg, Nannette Newman and Bruce Pollak. A portion of the proceeds from the sale of Beth Israel was used to create a scholarship at Ross High School.
This information about the Fremont Jewish Temple comes from a paper on the Jewish history of Fremont by Austin Reid, graduate assistant at the Cornell Center for Regional Economic Advancement.
His comprehensive document, “A History of Jewish Life in Fremont and Vicinity,” traces Jewish history in Fremont back to the 1840s and the Gusdorf family, believed to be the first Jewish family to settle locally.
A Lancaster native, Reid attended Capital University for undergraduate studies in history and political science. While at Capital, he initiated a project to document small-town Jewish life in Ohio, beginning with his hometown of Lancaster and surrounding areas. Some Fremont classmates told him that a synagogue once existed in their hometown, and that’s how he learned about the ancient Temple of Beth Israel.
He documented the Jewish history of Fairfield and Hocking counties as part of a project for Capital’s history program. While researching this, he realized that many other small towns once housed Jewish communities and he came to believe that it was a part of Ohio’s history that was in danger of be forgotten.
Reid believes that small-town Jewish communities have played an important role in shaping what Jewish religious life looks like in the United States. He also believes that small-town Jews contributed significantly to the reduction of anti-Semitism in the United States during the 20th century.
Reid has written about Ashtabula County, Athens County, Chillicothe, Coshocton, Fremont, Lancaster, Piqua, Steubenville, Zanesville, and other places. He sent these records to local historical societies, and the Columbus Jewish Historical Society digitized these works so they could be found online.
The Temple Beth Israel portion of Reid’s story is featured in an exhibit at the Sandusky County Historical Society Museum, now housed in that building.
Roy Wilhelm began a 40-year career with The News-Messenger in 1965 as a journalist. Now retired, he writes a column for The News-Messenger and News Herald.