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3104 West Windsor Road
Champaign, Illinois 61822

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Sinai Temple HISTORY :: Facility :: Location

Brief History :: Timeline :: Long Range Plan

HISTORY—Sinai Temple began as The Champaign-Urbana Hebrew Congregation on February 7, 1904. In April of 1905, the Jewish Ladies Social Circle (founded in 1894 and disbanded in 1943) instituted Sabbath School. The first community seder was organized in 1907 by Hannah Berolzheimer, an early director of the school.

On January 4, 1914, the congregation changed its name to Sinai Temple and affiliated with the Union of American Hebrew Congregations, now the Union for Reform Judaism (URJ).

In 1913, the congregation purchased a lot at the southwest corner of State and Clark Streets in Champaign, and on January 31, 1918, the first permanent Jewish house of worship, Sinai Temple, was dedicated. Like most new congregations, Sinai Temple depended on student and visiting rabbis for many years

Benjamin Frankel, director of the new chapter of Hillel Foundation at the University of Illinois, became the first permanent (though part-time) rabbi for Sinai Temple in 1923. Just 6 years later, at the age of 30, Rabbi Frankel died. Dr. Abram Sachar, a professor at the U. of I., took over as national and local director of Hillel and as part-time religious leader of Sinai Temple. Serving in these capacities until 1947, Dr. Sachar went on to become president of Brandeis University in 1968, where he remained for 20 years. (Photo above: John F. Kennedy, Dr. Sachar, and Eleanor Roosevelt.)

In 1971 the original Sinai Temple was partially destroyed by fire and the congregation moved into its new building on Windsor Road in 1975.


1854 Solomon Bernstein is the first permanent Jewish settler in Urbana. In 1855 he marries Fanny Wertheimer in Ohio and brings her to Urbana.
1857 Fanny Bernstein, daughter of Fanny and Solomon Bernstein, is first Jewish child born in the community.
1861 The brothers Nathan and Abraham Stern are the first permanent Jewish settlers in Champaign.
1867 Ahavath Achim, a benevolent burial society, is formed in Champaign. It merges with B'nai B'rith in 1887.
1868 Ahavath Achim buys land for a Jewish Cemetery at the SE corner of Cunningham & Perkins in Urbana.
1870 Hattie Kahn, daughter of Hanna and Nathan Kahn of Mattoon dies on 1 August at the age of 1 month, 25 days. Her grave is the first in the new Jewish cemetery and the oldest marked Jewish burial in the community.
1877 B'nai B'rith Grand Prairie Lodge 281 is founded. It meets in the "B'nai B'rith Hall" – 3 rooms above Joseph Kuhn's Champaign store on Main Street. B'nai B'rith opens its membership to women late in the 20th century. Grand Prairie Lodge is presently the oldest C-U Jewish organization still in operation.
1889 Ladies' Hebrew Benevolent Society founded and active until about 1891.
1894 Jewish Ladies Social Circle founded. It provides leadership in Jewish and community philanthropy until disbanding after the death of its founder, Addie Bernstein Cohen, in May 1943.
1895 Yom Kippur services performed in a room above the store at the SW corner of Neil & Church in Champaign on 28 September 1895 -- the first recorded public Jewish religious service in the community.
1898 The Urbana Jewish cemetery is closed and all burials are moved to a Jewish section of Mount Hope Cemetery in Champaign. The new cemetery is supported by the Jewish Ladies Social Circle and B'nai B'rith Grand Prairie Lodge. In 1912, operation is taken over by the Champaign-Urbana Hebrew Congregation.
1904 Sinai Temple is founded as The Champaign and Urbana Hebrew Congregation on 7 February 1904. It meets in space rented from local churches with services led by a variety of visiting and part-time rabbis.
1905 Sabbath School begun in April by Jewish Ladies Social Circle. 1907 First community Seder organized by Hannah Berolzheimer, an early director of the Sabbath School.
1907 Ivrim Society, first Jewish students' club, created at University of Illinois. In 1912 it becomes an affiliate of the national Menorah Society.
1912 Orthodox congregation B'nai Israel is founded. Active until 1954, the congregation first meets in rooms above the Champaign Commercial Bank. It later moves to a rented house near Third & White in Champaign.
1914 Champaign-Urbana Hebrew Congregation changes its name to Sinai Temple on 4 January and affiliates with the Union of American Hebrew Congregations (UAHC) which later became the Union for Reform Judaism (URJ). 1918 First permanent Jewish house of worship dedicated on 31 January 1918. The Sinai Temple building is completed at the SW corner of State & Clark in Champaign on a lot purchased in 1913.
1918 Sinai Temple Ladies Auxiliary, later renamed the Sinai Temple Sisterhood, is formed by the Jewish Ladies Social Circle. Sisterhood membership is open to all members of the Jewish community. It takes on the financial and operational burden of supporting the Sunday School and Temple kitchen, as well as many other community and international philanthropies.
1923 University of Illinois Hillel Foundation (world's first Hillel Foundation) is founded. It is directed by Benjamin Frankel who also begins serving as the first permanent (though part-time) Rabbi for Sinai Temple.
1926 National B'nai B'rith funds expansion of Hillel as a national organization. Rabbi Benjamin Frankel is appointed as National Director of Hillel Foundation and operates the National office from Urbana.
1929 After death at age 30 of Rabbi Benjamin Frankel, Dr Abram Sachar (later president of Brandeis University) takes over as national and local director of Hillel and as part-time religious leader of Sinai Temple. He serves in these capacities until 1947.
1929 Local chapter of Hadassah is organized. It is formally chartered in 1934 and continues operation until the mid-1990s.
1934 Champaign-Urbana Jewish Federation is formed to support local, national, and international Jewish programs.
1950 First permanent building for Hillel Foundation at the University of Illinois is completed at the SE corner of John & Fifth in Champaign.
1951 Rabbi Bernard Martin, a former part-time assistant rabbi at Hillel and Sinai, becomes Sinai Temple's first full-time rabbi. Except for 2 years spent as a military chaplain during the Korean War, he serves until 1957.
1971 Sinai Temple building at State & Clark in Champaign is partially destroyed by fire in January.
1975 Windsor Road Sinai Temple building is dedicated on 11 April. Its Litman Library is named in memory of long-time Temple members Rachel Frank Litman and Simon Litman. "Ray" Litman was the first women to deliver a sermon for Rosh Hashana services in the United States (Spokane, Washington, 1890).
1981 Committee for Jewish Culture and Society begins programs at the University of Illinois.
1994 Sinai Temple Sisterhood reorganizes as Women of Sinai. While continuing support of the Temple kitchen and Religious School, it passes on responsibility as the major fund-raiser for these operations to Sinai Temple.
1998 Women of Sinai Temple officially dissolves on 17 May 1998.
1999 Sinai Temple adds new sanctuary and school wing.
2004 Sinai Temple celebrates its 100th year in February, 2004.

Timeline Compiled by Allen Avner

LONG RANGE PLAN—The Sinai Temple Long Range Planning Committee wrote this report in response to the data accumulated in the “Jewish Population Survey: ChampaignUrbana, Illinois, 2003, by Stanley Wasserman and Jane Templin. The entire report and the implementation of its various suggestions is being considered item by item by the Sinai Temple Board during the years ahead. Input by community members is encouraged during this process of taking a committee report and modifying, adapting, and implementing some or all of its recommendations.

For further information regarding Sinai Temple, phone the office at (217) 352-8140 or send e-mail to to Sinai Temple.

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