Temple Israel of Boston

Past Voices, Audio Recordings, 1934-1979

Established in 1854, Temple Israel of Boston is the second oldest synagogue in New England. It has been the largest Reform synagogue in New England for most of its history, and it remains an important regional and national force in American Jewish and secular life. This collection from Temple Israel of Boston's Wyner Archives contains about 400 audio recordings dating from 1934 to 1979, a period when Reform Judaism was profoundly transformed by world events and changes in American society. These recordings, recently digitized from fragile tapes and records thanks to a "Recordings at Risk" grant from the Council on Libraries and Information Resources, include worship services, sermons, radio and television programs (audio only), lectures, and other programs and community events that provide a unique window into congregational life.

The earliest recording is a 1934 radio broadcast of Temple Israel's 80th Anniversary service, which occurred during the rabbinate of Rabbi Harry Levi (1875-1944, TI 1913-1939). Most of the recordings in the collection, however, were created between 1941 and 1961, during the rabbinates of eminent Temple Israel rabbis Joshua Loth Liebman (1907-1948, TI 1939-1948) and Roland B. Gittelsohn (1910-1995, TI 1953-1977). They are featured on many recordings along with Music Director, organist, and composer Herbert Fromm (1905-1995, TI 1941-1972).

Ten assistant rabbis who worked at Temple Israel between 1923 and 1979 also appear multiple times. Two other distinguished Temple Israel senior rabbis, Abraham Klausner (1915-2007, TI 1949-1953) and Bernard H. Mehlman (b. 1937, TI 1978-1999), as well as Temple Israel's first Cantor, Murray Simon (b. 1937?, TI 1972-1983), are also represented, along with many guest speakers--generally well-known Jewish and non-Jewish religious leaders, congregants, and visiting performers at congregational events.

Eighty-four of the approximately 100 recordings from the 1940s are drafts of sermons and lectures that Rabbi Liebman dictated on Audograph dictation discs to be transcribed by his secretary, Bernice Libon (later Kaye) (1919-2011). Virtually all the 270 recordings from 1953 to 1961 were recorded in real time on open reel tapes by Dr. Moses Eisenberg (1895-1969), a dentist, composer, and active Temple Israel member. The twenty recordings from the 1970s were taped with built-in recording technology in the new sanctuary that had recently been constructed on Temple Israel's Riverway campus.

While many of the recordings capture full or partial Sabbath and High Holy Day worship services in the synagogue and other community events, more than 20 percent are radio and television (audio only) broadcasts. Temple Israel's rabbis have always been prominent in Jewish and Christian circles beyond the synagogue community and each senior rabbi hosted a regular radio program (1924-1964) and/or a television program (1953-1978). Most were sponsored by the Temple Israel Brotherhood, a congregational auxiliary, and broadcast by transcription from the synagogue on local and regional radio stations.

The recordings reveal Jewish perspectives on important contemporary events and issues over time such as Zionism, Antisemitism, World War II and post-war America, the Holocaust, the Nuclear Age, McCarthyism, civil rights, and conformity, but also universal themes such as marriage, parenting, work, mental health, intermarriage, prejudice, racism, and more. Together, they capture the social and cultural milieu of the times and the tone and rhythms of synagogue ritual and Jewish Reform religious practice over the mid-twentieth century period.

For more information about the recordings shared with this site and other collections at the Wyner Archives of Temple Israel of Boston, please visit: https://www.tisrael.org/who-we-are/our-story/wyner-archives/.

Locations in this Collection: