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Herzl-Ner Tamid Conservative Congregation (Seattle)

  • By Lee Micklin
  • Posted 11/02/1998
  • HistoryLink.org Essay 112

Seattle's Herzl-Ner Tamid Conservative Congregation, originally called Herzl's congregation, was named after Theodore Herzl (1860-1904), founder of the World Zionist Organization. It incorporated on September 16, 1906. Until 1970, the congregation was located in Seattle's Central Area. Originally an Orthodox Sephardic synagogue, Herzl voted to modernize in 1929, joining the middle of Judaism's three major branches -- Orthodox, Conservative, and Reformed. In the late 1960s, the congregation decided to move to Mercer Island, in Lake Washington, and to merge with the Ner Tamid Conservative congregation. In the early twenty-first century, Herzl-Ner Tamid is the largest and oldest Conservative congregation in Seattle, and conducts traditional services with modern adaptations.

The congregation has been committed to Zionism from its inception. Seattle's early Zionist groups, "The Sons of Zion" (1901) and "Daughters of Zion" (about 1901), fed into Herzl's founding membership.

In the beginning, Herzl met in rented rooms, but in 1909 the cornerstone was laid for a synagogue on 16th Avenue and E Fir. On September 22, 1911, the new synagogue opened for High Holiday services. Herzl's first rabbi, Ludwig Brooks, officiated. He served Herzl from 1895 to 1905.

Also affiliated with Herzl as cantor and rabbi was Samuel Friedman, who served as rabbi for one year after Rabbi Brooks' death in 1915. Samuel Friedman had cantorial training in New York, and also served as cantor at Bikur Cholim.

Herzl's music was distinctive. In 1912, the Seattle Post-Intelligencer noted that the congregation had "a choir of talented vocalists, which, it is said, has never been equaled on the Pacific Coast."

Jacob Kramer served as rabbi of Herzl from 1915 to 1918. In 1919, Gedaliah Halpern became rabbi. Halpern was formerly Bikur Cholim's first official rabbi, serving there from 1905 to 1911.

In 1923, Rabbi Baruch Shapiro became Herzl's spiritual leader. The congregation grew and in July 1924 laid the cornerstone for a larger synagogue on 20th Avenue and E Spruce Street in Seattle's Central Area. The local papers reported the move from the old house of worship to the new:

"Almost 5,000 people marched in the parade behind the Sefer Torahs and about 2,000 participated in the dedication. The Holy Scrolls were carried under a canopy to the music of a band playing traditional sacred music. Many automobiles decorated by American and Jewish flags, carrying little girls in white, who also carried flags, gave color to the procession" (The Jewish Transcript, April 1925).

The well-attended July 1929 general meeting was historic. The vote to modernize Herzl's services passed, and the rabbi resigned. Beginning with mixed seating of men and women, Herzl took its first step away from orthodoxy and set out on the course of modernization that it follows today.

After the vote to modernize, Rabbi Baruch Shapiro and a loyal group of followers broke off and established Congregation Machzikay Hadath, "to be more orthodox than any other congregation in this city" (The Jewish Transcript, September 6, 1929).

In 1932, Herzl officially became a Conservative Congregation when it amalgamated with the New Conservative Congregation, a group of people committed to the middle ground between Orthodoxy and Reform. Rather than launch a new synagogue, they had hoped to join forces with Herzl. The leadership of Sol Esfeld was instrumental in the amalgamation.

In 1970 Herzl merged with Congregation Ner Tamid and became Herzl-Ner Tamid Conservative Congregation. At this time the congregation moved to Mercer Island. The present campus is located on Lake Washington at 3700 E Mercer Way.


Meta Buttnick, "Herzl-Ner Tamid Conservative Congregation: The Beginning Years, Part 1," Western States Jewish History, Vol. 25, No. 3, (April 1993); Seattle Post-Intelligencer, September 12, 1912; Ibid., March 39, 1925, p. 10; The Jewish Transcript, April 3, 1925, p. 7; Ibid., September 6, 1929; Herzl-Ner Tamid Conservative Congregation Website (http://www.herzl-ner-tamid.org/index.htm).

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