Temple Survives Waning Congregation
Only about a dozen families regularly attend Temple Adas Israel in Brownsville, but it has been a mainstay for the area’s Jewish community since the 1800s.
The temple has two lay rabbis: Robert Kalin, a retired math professor, and Fred Silverstein Jr., a businessman. The cantor is an Episcopal priest; one organist is from the Presbyterian church and the other is from the Methodist church. And non-Jews in the community often sing in the temple choir.
Temple Adas Israel was organized in 1867 by German immigrant brothers Joe and Sol Sternberger. When they moved to Tennessee, they brought a Torah, a scroll of the first five books of the Bible, written on sheepskin.
Services were conducted in private homes until 1882, when the congregation built a wooden temple. In 1989, First United Methodist Church burned, and the temple opened its doors to the Methodists until their church was rebuilt.
Over the years, the temple’s congregation dwindled as young people moved away, and services became sporadic until 1990 when an exchange student from Israel came to visit and served as a fill-in rabbi. Friday night services were resumed, and when the student returned to Israel, Kalin and Silverstein took over.
“I had been a secular agnostic, a college professor,” Kalin said. “But this place draws you, attracts you.”