In 1908 the first charter for the first Congregation Sons of Israel was drawn up to be in place for 99 years. We are now under our second Charter. Among the early congregants who were instrumental in getting our Charter (and who are listed on the original charter) are: Jacob Tarlinsky, Max Eff, W.A. Pinkoson, J.A. Lew, A.S. Goffin, Morris Friedman, S.A. Snyder, D. Mehlman, A. Butkowsky, Philip Epstein, David Price, I. Eff, D. Weinstein, Nathan Surasky, Morris Plekansky, David Gerstel, and Jay Ross.
Most of our original members were from Russia and Eastern Europe. Jewish people from that part of the world are known as “Ashkenazic”. They were seeking freedom from religious persecution.
Under the original leadership of Rabbi Jacob Tarlinsky and his wife, Dora, they synagogue was dedicated in 1923 with the completion and first service on March 30, 1924. Before that, services were held in private homes.
The synagogue was originally organized as “Orthodox” with the women and children seated separately in the balcony. Present day, we are “Conservative, Egalitarian”, with women involved with services. Women and men sit together. A “Mikva” (ceremonial bath), constructed our of coquina, which predates the original structure, is located to the left of the entrance under what is today the lounge.
The beautiful historical stained glass windows were donated by the three daughters of Rabbi Jacob and Dora Tarlinsky (Sarah Bernstein, Florence Felden and Lena Lichter). In 1958, the windows were installed in the Sanctuary. The windows came from a synagogue in Atlanta, Georgia, that was organized in 1887.
In the summer of 2013, the windows underwent a much needed restoration. This was done by Ken Hardeman, the great-grandson of the original window artist. Mr. Hardeman has graciously donated one of the original drawings of the windows to the congregation.
The Jewish Community has been an integral part of St. Augustine. Its members have always actively participated in St. Augustine’s social, civic and religious life. During World War II, our small congregation sent many of our young people to serve in the armed Forces.
It is interesting to note that Jews have had a part in the history of St. Augustine and the State of Florida. Moses Levy (Yulee) purchased part of the Arredondo Land Grant in the early 1880’s. This property would prove to be the site of Fort Mose, THE FIRST FREE BLACK COMMUNITY, IN THE United States, which is located just north of the City. David Levy, son of Moses, studied law in St. Augustine and was admitted to the Bar in 1832. In 1845, he reclaimed the Yulee family name and was elected to the U.S. Senate as the FIRST KNOWN JEW to accomplish this. Levy also purchased land in the 1840’s from a Sephardic Jew, (a Spanish Jew), Antonio Fernandez Mier, a name common to local “Minorcans” who are descendents of St. Augustine’s settlers from the 1700’s.
The Jewish Cemetery is located in the western part of the city. The site was chosen due to the fact that…two Jewish peddlers named Gerson Posnansky and Samuel Snyder had been killed by Indians in 1840 and 1846 and buried in the plot. Subsequent to the establishment of the congregation, the
property was purchased and became the site of our Jewish cemetery.