Congregation celebrates family; anniversary festivities begin Nov. 20
By Dave Sorter
A congregation is often called a family, with long-lasting relationships that continue l’dor v’dor — from generation to generation.
Tiferet Israel Congregation is the epitome of that description. As Dallas’ third-oldest synagogue and its longest-lasting Orthodox/Traditional shul prepares to begin the celebration of its 120th anniversary, its leaders want to honor and recognize the people who have kept the congregation thriving for almost a century and a quarter.
The festivities commence after 5 p.m. services on Friday, Nov. 20 with a kickoff dinner at the synagogue, 10909 Hillcrest Road in Dallas. Local writer and Texas Jewish Post columnist Harriet Gross will be the featured speaker, discussing “Tiferet at 120: Looking Backward, Moving Forward.” The actual anniversary is March 15, the day after Tiferet’s annual Kosher Chili Cook-Off. The main celebratory event will take place on June 13. Other activities are planned in between.
The theme of the anniversary is “It’s All About the People,” and Congregation President Ed Jerome believes it is the people who have kept the Tiferet fire burning.
“Why have we survived for 120 years?” he asked. “It’s all about the people: the people who show up and keep the lights on; who make minyan; who show up every day to maintain the synagogue. Places die because nobody cares enough to keep [them] going.”
Jerome not only hopes that as many members as possible attend the kickoff event and the other festivities, he is also reaching out to past members and descendants of members. Tiferet, in conjunction with the Dallas Jewish Historical Society, is looking for artifacts, memorabilia and anecdotes about the synagogue.
“When I meet people and talk to them about Tiferet, everybody has a story or anecdotes about their parents or grandparents,” Jerome said.
Added Tiferet Office Manager Debby Rubin: “A lot of people think they really don’t know much until they start talking, and it’s great.”
The area is rife with descendants of Tiferet Israel’s founders: The Tobolosky, Ablon, Donosky, Dombrowsky and Rubenstein families were among those who created Tiferet Israel in 1890. Almost all of those shul fathers had immigrated to Dallas from the Bialystok/Suwalki area of Poland in the 1880s and were related by birth or marriage.
“So many were here from the same place in Poland,” Rubin said. “They brought their own rabbis. The descendants are still here, so it is really family.”
Said Jerome: “A lot of people have intermarried, so it all weaves together in the congregation.”
At the time, Reform Emanu-El and then-Orthodox Shearith Israel were the synagogues in town, and the immigrants wanted a place of their own. They met for the first time on March 15, 1890 at the home of Jack Donosky, one of the few who had not come over from Poland but a cousin of Sam and Temma Tobolosky.
Tiferet bought a residence on what is now Akard Street in 1893 and rebuilt it in 1902. Max Katz donated a building site at Grand Avenue and Edgewood Street, and the new shul opened in 1938. It was then that Tiferet started its conversion from pure Orthodox to Traditional, since the new synagogue did not have a mechitzah, though men sat in the front and women in the back. A couple of rows of mixed seating were added in 1942. Now, Tiferet has what Jerome calls “tri-seating,” with men on one side, women on the other and mixed seating in between.
The congregation moved to its current site in 1956.
Tiferet today, led by Rabbi Shawn Zell, has a membership of about 220 families, just the size the leadership likes. Jerome and Rubin can only think of what the original members must have experienced.
“For some of us, it’s a sobering sense of responsibility to inherit an organization that is 120 years old,” Jerome said. “I can just imagine the trials and tribulations of Jews in Dallas in 1890.”
Now, 120 years later, Tiferet is looking back and trying to piece together as much of its informal history as possible.
“We are certainly doing outreach to families who were once members,” Jerome said. “If anybody has anything, talk to us or the Historical Society. Give us a call, and we’ll get somebody out to talk to you.”
For information or to provide memorabilia and/or anecdotes/stories, call Tiferet Israel at 214-691-3611.