Rabbi Mayer Winkler was a prominent rabbi, first in Budapest, then in the U.S. Homestead was lucky to get him for the first year-and-a-half of his time in the United States while he learned English (May 1921-Sep. 1922). The records I can find gloss over the details; I assume first, that the Hungarian faction at HHCRS quietly undertook to bring him over, and second, that Rabbi Winkler needed them only to get to the U.S. and have a job whilst learning English, having far grander ambitions for himself than this small community could provide.
Rabbi Winkler studied in the seminaries of Budapest and Vienna. He graduated from Vienna University with the degree of Ph. D. and also the Jewish Theological Seminary of Vienna. He was appointed a rabbi in Budapest in 1912 and remained there until coming to Homestead to serve a little over a year as rabbi, where the Criterion suggests that he was quite active. This was just his first year in the U.S. “where he received a fine opportunity of beginning his Rabbinical career” (Criterion, 5/6/1927, p. 3, though they really meant his American rabbinic career), but it was enough for the Criterion to him consider him as one of their own, and afterwards they followed his career closely. He “was called from there to the Los Angeles pulpit” (the source nicely elides that he left in the middle of his second term). He was appointed Regional Director of the United Synagogue of America in 1925.
In LA he served two full terms and part of a third before resigning in 1930 seemingly due to his refusal to fundraise. Soon after he organized a free synagogue in LA. He was one of the first rabbis in the U.S. to speak regularly over the radio as the founder of the radio program “Synagogue on the Air,” which he conducted for seven years. He died in 1944.
Born: 1882-3 in Czechoslovakia (1930 census’ usage)
Died: 1/21/1944, LA
- Wife: Mrs. Gezella Winkler (b. 1884-6, Czechslovakia). Married 1907.
- Daughter: Mrs. Joseph Rabinowitch (Nellie) of LA (b. 1911, Vienna)
- Two sons: Erwin/Irving Winkler of LA (b. 1910, Austria) and Pfc. Rudolf Winkler (b. 1917, Czechoslovakia).
- Wife & kids immigrated in 1921 (source: 1930 census, which says Mayer immigrated in 1928, which can’t be right.)
- 1912: Appointed rabbi in Budapest
- 4/2/1921: Arrived with his family at the port of New York (source: his 2/6/1923 Declaration of Intention)
- 5/4/1921: Special Meeting of the H.H.C.R.S. (HHCRS Meeting Minutes, 1920-1931, p. 15):
Meeting was called for the purpose of electing a Rabi for the H.H.C.R.S. The president explained the purpose of the meeting and every Brother present was asked to express his opinion freely. After the question was thoroughly discussed the question asked was, are there any applicants for the portion? An application of Rev. Mayer Winkler was read and said that he was a candidate for the position. On motion and seconded the application was accepted and ordered filed. A motion made and seconded that the said (Mr.) Rabi Mayer Winkler should be elected Rabi of the H.H.C.R.S. for one year, with a salary of ($600) six hundred dollars, payable at the rate of ($50) fifty dollars per month. After several remarks a vote on the question was called. The motion unanimously carried. The Sect. was requested to notify Rev. Mayer Winkler of same.
- 5/13/1921: Election announced in paper (Criterion, p. 16):
Dr. Winkler is undoubtedly one of the most eminent men of Hungary and is a noted instructor in religion, languages and literature. He was born in Hungary and studied for nine years under one of the greatest Hungarian rabbis. For five years he studied under Rabbi Moses Bloch, a man of eminence. Dr. Winkler’s primary idea in coming to the United States was to get command of the English language. While only in this country a few days, Dr. Winkler talks English remarkably well pointing out that he can more easily grasp the language through having studied and learned so many languages. He will take up a course in the University of Pittsburgh. The European visitor is quite a learned man, being the rabbi of Beth Israel congregation, the largest in Budapest for nine years. He was also professor of German, religion and literature in the Budapest high school. He studied in the Budapest Seminary for five years after which he went to the Vienna seminary and university where he received his degree as rabbi and doctor of philosophy with highest honors. He is also the author of a book of science called Die Traditionen in den Werken des Hieranymus of Jewish Traditions.
- 6/5/1921; “A communication from the I.O.B.B. Lodge of Homestead was read requesting for a committee to work in conjunction with them to make a public installation for worthy Reverend Mayer Winkler…The following Bros. were appointed to serve on the committee, Bros. M. Fishel, H. Haupt, A. Hepps, S. Margolis, M. Fogal” (HHCRS Meeting Minutes, 1920-1931, p. 18). Can find no record of if/when this event took place.
- 4/2/1922: Reelected rabbi (HHCRS Meeting Minutes, p. 30-31):
A Delegation from the Ladies Aid Society appeared at the meting and a beautiful plea was made to those present by Mrs. Celia Hepps appealing to them to re-elect Rev. Dr. Winkler as Rabbi of the Congregation. She was listened to with great attention and were assured by the President that there [sic] wish should be carried out. Mrs. A. Weiss and Mrs. H.S. Schwartz also spoke on the same line. The Meeting was then declared open for election of a Rabbi. Secretary reported that Rev. Winkler was a candidate for the position and if so desired would appear in person. Report accepted…Rev. Mayer Winkler was unanimously elected Rabbi of the H.H.C.R.S. for the term of 1 year. Rev. Winkler appeared before the Congregation and in a few appropriate words thanked the Congregation for re-electing him and promised a great future to the Congregation.
- On 4/7/1922 the newspaper reports on the enthusiasm (Criterion, p. 14):
The large attendance attested the popularity which the Rabbi has achieved during his year of many-sided service as preacher and teacher in the community. Particularly impressive was the pleas of the large delegation of the Ladies’ Aid Society under the leadership of Mrs. Elek [sic] Hepps, who pointed out what it has meant to the women and children, as well as to the men, of the congregation to have its own Rabbi…When the result of the vote was made known and the election declared unanimous the enthusiasm of the meeting reached such a high pitch that a committee was dispatched to carry the message at once to the Rabbi and summon him to appear before the meeting…
Mr. Aaron Weiss, the president, paid an eloquent tribute to the Rabbi on behalf of the congregation, saying that he had brought new life to the Jewish community of Homestead.
- 4/21/1922: Homestead Passover celebrations: Winkler gave sermons both days, conduct public seder, 4/16 with “all the ten Jewish organizations in Homestead” called a get-together meeting at which he “emphasized the necessity of a Jewish Community House in his address ‘Constructive Jewish Work in Homestead'” (Criterion, p. 20). This is one of many mentions of his activity in the paper.
- 9/3/1922: “Resignation of Rev. Dr. Mayer Winkler read and accepted. Sect. instructed to notify him of acceptance with regrets.” (HHCRS Meeting Minutes, p. 40)
- 1924: Listed in LA city directory as rabbi, Sinai Congregation, living at 1008 Beacon Av. Criterion, 8/15/1924, p. 29, says his work:
has attracted much attention…the growth of the congregation since Rabbi Winkler assumed charge as spiritual leader, has been so rapid that construction of a larger building to house the many activities, has become imperative….Besides delivering several radio sermons in the past few months, his addresses and sermons are reprinted weekly in the Los Angeles daily papers. Last spring the congregation…unanimously re-elected him for a term of five years.
- May 1927: “for the past four and a half years he has been one of the leaders of Conservative Judaism in the far west” (Criterion, 5/6/27, p. 3). Spoke in Pittsburgh while en route to Atlantic City for convention of United Synagogue. Mentions his popular radio sermons. Address reprinted in paper.
- Jan. 1929: Reelected unanimously to a third term at Temple Sinai (Criterion, 1/11/1929, p. 11)
- 1930 census: 438 So. Hammond Blvd. (with wife & sons; daughter then married)
- 8/17/1930: Rabbi Mayer Winkler, who for the past eight years was the spiritual leader of Temple Sinai, one of the largest Conservative synagogues on the Pacific coast, handed in his resignation (source, more on the possible reason — fundraising duties?)
- 1930: Recently became a citizen (source; 1930 census says in 1928, though 1940 census says he only has his papers)
- 10/24/1930: “Rabbi Mayer Winkler, formerly rabbi of Homestead, Pa., has organized a free synagogue in Los Angeles, California, which is being called the Community Synagogue of Los Angeles.” (Criterion, p. 13)
- 1940 census: 10162 Pinewood St. (with wife & Rudolph)
- 1/21/1944: Died in LA. Obituary from the Criterion, 2/4/1944, p. 23:
…founded the Community Synagogue in LA in 1928 after serving at Temple Sinai since 1922. He also was the founder of the radio program, “Synagogue on the Air,” which he conducted for seven years. Rabbi Winkler studied at Vienna University and Vienna Seminary and was ordained a rabbi in that city. He was appointed a rabbi in Budapest in 1912 and remained there until coming to Homestead in 1921. A year later he moved to LA.