Rev. Benjamin N. Goldberg

Rabbi Goldberg with his admired choir

Rabbi Goldberg, center, with the synagogue choir

Rabbi Goldberg was a little bit too old fashioned for me.  In addition to everything else he ever learned when becoming a rabbi, he could have studied a little bit of psychology. He could have studied more about how to handle people, and how to handle children. I didn’t get along with him too well, obviously.  He was harsh. And he showed favoritism to the nth degree.

–L.A., Homestead Hebrew Congregation oral histories

Goldberg served as rabbi of the synagogue from 1925-1927.  He gave the synagogue endless problems, asking for increases and advances on his salary regularly, and apparently running up debts at the same time.  Uncharacteristically, while he was there they bore it all, though during that period they fired lesser men for merely asking for a raise.  As his first three-year term came up for renewal, he asked for a new contract, then freaked out and quit when the officers went to speak to him, thus leaving the shul in the lurch just two weeks before Rosh Hashana!  Then he sued them for $450, though he never showed up in court, so the suit was dropped.  Later the shul would write him out of their history altogether.  Could you blame them?!  The below detailed chronology (from the 1920-1930 meeting minutes starting p. 99) details the trouble, leaving out more run-of-the-mill mentions of him tending to his duties.

The bit of genealogical research I did into him turned up something unusual — though born in NY, he made his way to Palestine by 1920 or so, where he met married his wife, who was born in Palestine herself to parents from Turkey and England.  Their firstborn was born there in 1922, and later that year they returned to the U.S.  His first U.S. pulpit was probably Annapolis, then Homestead, then somewhere in NY, then Wilmington, NC by 1930, and then Sioux City in 1937 (if not somewhere else in-between), then Alexandria in 1940.  Doesn’t seem like he managed to stay at any of his pulpits for too long!

Homestead year 1

  • 12/29/1924:  Synagogue receives his letter of application, but ignores it.
  • 12/30/1924: The board accepts Rev. Davis of Watertown, NY for the position.  He declines.  Then they call Rev. Goldberg of Annapolis for an interview.  He accepts a salary of $2600 and moving expenses of $200.
  • 2/5/1925:  They paid his paper hanging bill and advanced him $100. Advancing him money is going to become a running theme.
  • 2/19/1925:  Rev. Goldberg gets off to a strong start.

Rev B. N. Goldberg presented Rules, and Regulations pertaining how to conduct services, same were read and approved.

Rev. Goldberg requests permission to write out the minhagim pertaining the services to be rendered every Saturday and holiday’s (sic), and to have same displayed in a conspicuous place of the Synagogue, so that all who are interested can read same. Permission was granted him to have same followed out.

  • 3/5/1925:  The congregation decides to pay Goldberg $1800/yr in salary, and the rest will come from school tuition fees.
  • 4/20/1925:  Goldberg freaks out at this arrangement… and maybe asks for a raise?

Rev. Goldberg asked the floor, and stated that he does not wish to accept any so called donations, and the Cong. to find some ways to collet any such donations for the Cong Treasury. All he wishes is a straight salary. 3500.00. Com. of 5 appointed to have a consultation with Rev. Goldberg regarding advance of salary…and other matters pertaining to his office.

  • 4/22/1925 (special meeting requested by finance committee):  Yes, “Rev Goldberg asked an increase in salary of 900.00 per year.” He’s been there only 2 months — chutzpah!  Asking for raises is also going to become a running theme with him.
  • 4/30/1925:  They decide to pay him his full month’s salary and make other arrangements around the handling of the $100 advance.  I guess that’s a no on the raise.
  • 8/2/1925:  He asks for another salary advance.  The grant his request for a raise; he will get an additional $50 per month (going back to August 1925) after Sukkot, though no new contract will be drawn up to that effect.  I assume the post-Sukkot payment was to ensure they wouldn’t lose him before the holidays.
  • 9/10/1925:  But he wants a new contract, so they have a special meeting and decide to grant it to him starting Sukkot 1925.  He is still getting $2600/yr, but he gets an annual bonus of $600, which he forfeits if he leaves before Sukkot.  Essentially he’s getting an additional $50/mo, but he has to serve a full year to get it.  Time will prove this arrangement to be wise.  I assume he accepted this arrangement, since there is no follow-up.

Homestead year 2

  • 6/24/1926:  After making a report on the school and complaining that the committee doesn’t visit enough, Goldberg requests a $200 advance on his $600 annual bonus.  The board agrees to advance it without interest.
  • 9/15/1926:  More High Holiday planning… including permitting Rabbi Goldberg to speak in Yiddish if he wishes, which really surprised me given how emphatically they wanted a modern rabbi two years prior.
  • 10/13/1926:  Goldberg gets the remaining $400 of his annual bonus.

Homestead year 3

  • 2/2/1927:  Goldberg asks for an advance of $200 on his salary.  A committee is appointed, but I don’t see any follow-up.
  • 6/1/1927:  Mr. Jackson sends a letter to the synagogue that Goldberg owed him $167.  The board decides to withhold the sum from his $600 Sukkot bonus.
  • 6/30/1927:  “Mrs. H S. Schwartz filed a request to be release by the Cong. from the endorsement of a note for Rev. Goldberg to the amount of 730.00.”  A committee decides to investigate.
  • 8/28/1927:  Goldberg asks for a few days’ leave of absence at the same time that the other teacher in the school is away for his health.  The school has to be closed for two weeks.
  • 9/6/1927:  The board reads a letter from Goldberg asking for a three-year renewal on his contract.  The officers of the congregation decide to speak with him.
  • 9/12/1927:  Goldberg quits!  He did leave before the holidays just as they feared!  (RH was 9/27 that year.)

Letter from Mr. Goldberg pertaining renewal of contract was read and Pres Mervis reports that the officers who were assignd to speak to him could not accomplish anything owing to the fact that Mr. Goldberg got so excited that it was impossible to speak to him. I. Grossman made a motion 2 by S. Margolis the request for a renewal of contract for 3 years he refused, and to write him owing to the fact that his contract expires on Jan 21, and as he has other prospects for another position to give us an immediate answer if he wishes to complete his term, and fulfill his contract, if not to send his resignation at once, letter to be sent thru a Com. of three. Motion carried.

The Com went up to see him and had a talk with Mr Goldberg and brought back a written resignation, the resignation was accepted without any discussion upon the motion of Rosenthal + Lembersky.

  • 10/12/1927:  Now things get ugly.

School com report. Rev Goldberg conducted the school till Sept 3rd, after that date he did not appear at the synagogue school room.  [Ed:  Notice that this date is before the board even discusses his request for a contract renewal!

The claim of Rev. Goldberg for 12 days wages this is up to Sep 12 was laid on the table, owing to the fact that he refused to conduct services, or attend to any of his duties after Sept. 3rd.

Rev Goldberg suit the Cong. for $450.00 which he alleges the Cong. owes him. The Pres. Mr Mervis made this report, and he is taken the proper steps to safeguard the interest of the Congregation.

I’m not sure where the $450 sum comes from.  12 days of his monthly wages are far less.  Does he want a pro-rated bonus?

After he left Homestead…

  • 5/2/1928:  Goldberg doesn’t show up in court, so the lawsuit is dropped.  The end.  Goldberg is gone, and they would try their best not to remember him.

Regarding the lawsuit of Goldberg. Pres S. Mervis reports, that the case was called for trial. The Pres of Cong. and Mr Friedlander and Grossman appeared in Court. Attorney AC Hepps had charge of the case, and prepared all legal documents, the prosecuting attorney, as well as the plaintiff did not appear in Court. Attorney AC Hepps moved for a non-suit, and the judge of court granted the request, Attorney Hepps refused to accept a fee. For his services – A discussion taken up to determine how to compensate the attorney for his services, resulted with a motion made by Rosenthal second by S Margolis to accept Attorney AC Hepps as a member of the Cong. without initiation fee, provided he is willing to accept the offer. Motion was carried. Secy of Cong to notify Attorney AC Hepps of the procedure of the Cong.

  • 10/31/1928:  Except!  “B Seiavitch claim of Mr Goldberg for a milk bill to amount of 50.00.” They decide to deduct it from the dues he owes the congregation.
  • 9/7/1930:  Still?!  “Bill from S. Glick for printing ordered by former Rabbi Mr. Goldberg referred to secretary for settlement if possible. If not, ordered paid.”

Genealogical records

  • 1927 Homestead City directory:  Gives his wife’s name as Norma and his address at 408 8th Ave.
  • 1930 census (and city directory):  He and his family are now living in Wilmington, North Carolina.  From this entry we learn:
    • He was born in 1900 in NY.  His father is from Grodno and his mother NY.  He is listed as an alien despite having been born in the U.S.  not sure why and how that would have affected his post-WWI return/immigration to the U.S.
    • His wife, Norma, was born in 1901 in… Palestine!  Her father is from Turkey and her mother from England.  Interesting!
    • Their first-born, Gertrude, was born in Palestine in 1922, which presumably means that he ended up there as well!  The three of them immigrated to the US in 1922.
    • Then came Solomon in February 1924, born in Annapolis, MD while his father had his pulpit there.
    • Theodore was born in 1926 in Homestead.
    • Twins Isadore and Seymore were born in Buffalo, NY in August 1928.  Presumably after Goldberg left Homestead his next pulpit was in NY.  (Or maybe he lied about having another pulpit and went to his family ’til he could find his next position, because he wasn’t there very long.)
  • 1930 census has him as rabbi in Wilmington, NC
  • 1937 city directory has him in Sioux City, Iowa as rabbi of Beth Abraham Congregation.
  • 1940 census has him as a rabbi in Alexandria, Virginia

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