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In 1922, barely a year after the village of Cleveland Heights had  become a city, a large home was built on Euclid Heights Boulevard near Coventry Road by Jacob and Mina Makoff. A baker and businessman since before the turn of the century, Mr. Makoff was also a devoted and observant Jew.

The Makoff’s new home became the focal point of the then very small Jewish community “up the hill”, as the Heights area was then known. In the basement of his home, Jacob Makoff established regular daily and Shabbos services in a room furnished with a Bima and Oron Ha-Kodesh.  A separate entrance into the home was provided for the Minyan, and the numbers who attended grew as the surrounding Jewish community grew.

In 1923, the group became formally organized as The Heights Jewish Orthodox Congregation. For the High Holy Days, the congregation held services in the Heights Theater, which Mr. Makoff had participated in building.

Within a few years it became apparent that a permanent home was needed to accommodate the congregation. Finding a suitable structure or location to build one was not without its problems. The community at large in Cleveland Heights was not then notably receptive toward such an establishment, and court decisions which would allow any religious group the right to establish a home where they desired were decades in the future.

In 1927, a home was found on Superior Road near Mayfield that would suit the needs of the congregation if it could be purchased. It was arranged that a young couple, Dr. and Mrs. Aaron B. Yasinow, would purchase the home, ostensibly to reside there with their son. The choice of this couple was no accident, as Mrs. Yasinow was the former Rose L. Makoff, the youngest daughter of the Makoff family.

When the transaction was completed on January 4, 1928, the property was immediately deeded to The Heights Jewish Orthodox Congregation, and was to be our home for more than half a century. Jacob and Mina  Makoff had provided the funds for its establishment, and for many years it was formally called “Makoff’s Shul”. Some of the original documents relating to the purchase of the property were recently presented to the  ccongregation archives by Dr. Aaron Yasinow.

Despite the economic conditions of the 1930’s, the congregation grew.  A Sisterhood was soon organized, and by 1926 it became possible to have a full-time rabbi. He arrived in the person of Seymour M. Zambrowsky, warm and personable in nature, rotund, a fiery orator, who would serve as our rabbi for a decade. Rabbi Zambrowsky became an outstanding figure in the rabbinate of Canada.

In 1928, the name of the congregation was changed to The Heights Jewish Center. A daily Hebrew school had begun, and toward the end of the decade a Sunday school as well. It was also during this time that the congregation welcomed into its midst many families who had been among the fortunate few to escape from Germany and Austria before the Second World War began.

During the war, many of our members, young and old, were called upon to serve. The activities of the congregation then were naturally directed toward assisting the war effort, in addition to continuing our normal religious obligations.

The immediate post-war years created dramatic changes for our congregation. Following years of depression and war, the Jewish population of Cleveland which had lived primarily on the east side of  the city in the Glenville area to the north and the Mt. Pleasant-Kinsman area to the south, began to move to the eastern suburbs. As a rsult, many of the old neighborhood congregations, some of whom were informally known by the streets on which they were located, could no longer serve their members who had moved away.  Their members had found new homes and so, too, it became necessary for the congregations to relocate.

A solution to the problem of relocation for many congregations was to join already existing institutions in the Heights area. By the end of the 40’s, several congregations had merged with The Heights Jewish Center,  bringing not only new members, but a new vitality and spirit which greatly enlarged congregational activities.

Beth Israel Chevra Kaddish, which was founded in 1859, had merged with the Beth Hamidrosh Hagodol at the end of the 19th century. These congregations, along with Ohave Emanu (The Tacoma Shul) and Anshe  Grodno gave added strength to The Heights Jewish Center.

But it was not in members alone that we gained. Along with their congregations came the beloved Rabbi Eiser Paley and the outstanding Cantor Aaron Cohen. Rabbi Paley was to serve his congregations as Rabbi and Rabbi Emeritus for more than forty years, while Cantor Cohen’s voice was to grace the Tacoma Shul and The Heights Jewish  Center for more than forty-five years.

Heights Jewish Center circa 1947

(Photo  above courtesy of Cleveland Heights Historical Society)

Rabbi Israel PorathIn 1947, two important additions came to the shul. One was of concrete and steel. A new, large building was erected behind the old house to contain our new sanctuary, auditorium, social hall and classrooms. The  other was Rabbi Israel Porath, later Dean of the Orthodox Rabbinical  Council of Cleveland. Scholar, writer, inspirational spiritual leader, he  was to serve as Rabbi until his death in 1974.

The congregation bustled with activity. Religious schools were re-instituted in 1949, providing education for our chidlren through the 9th grade of Sunday school. In the same year, Boy Scout Troop 61 was   organized, and in a few years Cub Pack 41 and Explorer Troop 61-E were added. The Sisterhood had grown to the point that there was now a Senior and Junior Sisterhood, each with its own actvities.

On February 1, 1953, The Three Pillars was inaugurated as the official organ of the Junior Sisterhood. It quickly became the official bulletin of  The Heights Jewish Center and so remains today.  The name came from the Biblical verse contained in the Ethics of the Fathers, which suggest that upon three things is the world based–Torah, Service, and Benevolence. Hence, Three Pillars of Judaism. In  December of the same year, our current Men’s club was organized.

The doors of our congregation have always been open to visitors, and one in particular was noted in the June, 1955 issue of the  Three Pillars.

“As usual, Jan Peerce, the famed Metropolitan tenor, davened Mincha with us during his Metropolitan Opera engagement in Cleveland.”

During the past six decades, many outstanding individuals have led our congregation. Among our past presidents have been Jacob Berkowitz, Max Steinberg, Charles C. Goldman, Irving Rashkow, Louis Chaitoff,  Max Sorkin, Morris H. Sudman, Alex Adelman and Gerald Krainess.

By the late 60’s and early 70’s, it became apparent that yet another movement of the Jewish community was taking place. Our membership  was slowly but surely moving away from the area surrounding our shul. No longer was it possible for most to walk to shul when required.  Attendance at daily and Shabbos services lessened. Just as congregations begun in the last century had moved many times to accompany the movement of their members, the time had come for the  first major movement of The Heights Jewish Center.

Under the leadership of our then President, Morris H. Sudman, and our new Rabbi, Daniel Schur, plans were developed to find a new home for our congregation. Through the tireless efforts of many individuals over a  period of several years, substantial funds were raised and plans firmed.

In 1979, we moved into our new home, the former University Heights Masonic Temple. The building, located on a main highway and next to fine recreational facilities in a park-like setting, seemed an ideal beginning for our needs. 

Extensive remodeling and rebuilding of the structure were needed.  Under the strong guidance of our past President, Alex Adelman, the next two years saw the completion of our beautiful sanctuary and the creation of a lower-level social hall, library, offices, conference rooms   and other areas of beauty and utility.

Under the leadership of our current president, Dr. Fred Bolotin, the ground-breaking ceremony for our new addition took place on July 19, 1991. This new addition is a multi-purpose edifice which serves as a chapel, a hall for weddings and simchas , an extension to our lower-level banquet hall and a milchige kitchen.  At this date, all are in use.

The Heights Jewish Center Synagogue, as we are now known, which with its combined congregations has served Greater Cleveland continuously for 137 years, will continue to grow and to serve in the future. The Three Pillars remain our guide: Torah, Service, Benevolence.