Monday, July 3, 2023

Spring Valley, Illinois & Sha’arei Tzedek Synagogue; A Jewish Connection.

The history of Jewish people in Spring Valley, Illinois, dates back to the late 1800s.

Jews first settled in the Illinois Valley Region, mainly from Lithuania. They came as peddlers, shopkeepers, and skilled tradesmen to serve the mining and farming communities growing in and around Spring Valley.

The first known Jewish settler in the Illinois Valley was John Hays, who settled in Cahokia in 1793. Hays was a fur trapper and farmer. John Hays was appointed Sheriff of St. Clair County, 1798-1818.

The first Jewish congregation in Spring Valley was organized in 1890. It was called Congregation B'nai Israel. The congregation built its first Synagogue (Shul [Shoe-el] ─ Yiddish) in 1892 at 112 East First Street, but it was destroyed by fire in 1909.
A Black-and-White photographic postcard of the exterior of Sha'arei Tzedek Synagogue at 231 West Erie Street in Spring Valley, Illinois.

Congregation B'nai Israel built a new Synagogue at 231 West Erie Street in 1909. This Synagogue was more significant than the first one and could accommodate worshipers. The new Synagogue was named Sha'arei Tzedek, which means "Gates of Justice" in Hebrew.

The congregation's membership peaked in the 1920s with more than 100 families.

Sha'arei Tzedek served the Jewish community of Spring Valley for many years. However, as the Jewish population in the town declined in the mid-1960s, the congregation eventually disbanded. The Synagogue building was sold in 1977 and is now used as a furniture store.

The Synagogue closed in 1999 due to declining membership and participation.

Despite the disbandment of the congregation, Sha'arei Tzedek continues to hold High Holiday services in Spring Valley. These services are led by Allan Goodkind, who has been leading services at the Synagogue for over 40 years. 

The Jewish High Holidays are a period of ten days that begins with Rosh Hashanah (the Jewish New Year) and ends with Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement). These holidays are a time for personal reflection, contrition, and reaffirmation.

Rabbi Cantor Goodkind retired to the West Rogers Park neighborhood in Chicago. Goodkind led High Holiday services at Sha'arei Tzedek every year he could after he retired.

The history of Sha'arei Tzedek Synagogue is a testament to the resilience of the Jewish community in Spring Valley. Despite the challenges of a declining population, the congregation has kept its doors open for over 100 years. The Synagogue is a reminder of the rich Jewish history in the Illinois Valley Region.

The Sha'arei Tzedek Preservation Society was formed in 2006 to save the Synagogue. The society raised $1 million to repair the building and reopen it as a museum and cultural center. The Synagogue reopened in 2010 for community events and programs.

Compiled by Dr. Neil Gale, Ph.D.

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