United Hebrew Congregation - Joplin, Missouri
The first synagogue in Joplin formed in 1904, nearly three decades after the city was incorporated. Prior to that time, the relatively small Jewish community formed prayer groups and following the turn of the twentieth century, the congregation grew large enough to support the renting of space for worship services, and eventually, the construction of this building. The United Hebrew Congregation has operated out of the same building since its completion in 1916. While other small-town Jewish communities have declined over the years, Joplin's is still going strong today, more than a hundred years after the synagogue opened its doors.
United Hebrew Congregation of Joplin, Missouri
Backstory and Context
Joplin, Missouri, was founded in 1873. Settlers lived in the area for several decades before that, and many of those families were Jewish. Some were shopkeepers or managers, and others were miners, but all came to the area to take advantage of opportunities connected to natural resources including the area's rich lead and zinc mining. By the 1880s, the Jewish community included small prayer groups, and shortly after the turn of the century, there were enough Jewish residents to establish a formal congregation. In 1904, the young Rabbi Emanuel Kahn organized an unnamed Jewish congregation in Joplin. They started to use the name B'nai Israel in 1905 and held their services in rented space at the Stevens Hotel. In 1911, under the leadership of a different rabbi, they officially named themselves the United Hebrew Congregation.
By the 1910s, the congregation had doubled in size and had to pay more money to rent a larger space. Over the next several years, they held plays as fundraisers, with the proceeds from tickets going to fund their own synagogue. At a 1916 fundraising banquet, Jews from Pittsburg, Carterville, Webb City, Galena, Carthage, and even New York City, were present and pledged $10,000, equal to more than $207,000 today, within forty minutes. Work quickly went ahead on the new building designed to blend Byzantine and Muslim Turkish styles.
The synagogue has been carefully maintained and occasionally updated by its congregants. New additions include the metalwork by Marv Dahmen on the front door of the temple, the ark in the sanctuary, and a new Torah, rescued from Nazi Germany and brought to Joplin by the Levy family. Many small-town Jewish congregations have declined over the last several decades as congregants' children move to bigger cities after college. However, the United Hebrew Congregation is not one of them, and they are still going strong today. They celebrated their centennial in 2016.
United Hebrew Congregation, Synagogues360. Accessed November 19th, 2022. https://synagogues-360.anumuseum.org.il/gallery/united-hebrew-congregation/.
Willis, Jerry. Hebrew house of worship part of city for more than century, Joplin Globe. May 2nd, 2019. Accessed November 19th, 2022. https://www.joplinglobe.com/news/lifestyles/hebrew-house-of-worship-part-of-city-for-more-than-century/article_99b80e49-3c78-5934-a1b4-058fdaecb9ea.html.
Willis, Carly. United Hebrew congregation celebrates 100 years, KOAM News Now. January 26th, 2017. Accessed November 19th, 2022. https://www.koamnewsnow.com/united-hebrew-congregation-celebrates-100-years/.
Okeson, Sarah. Jewish community in Joplin marks centennial of temple, KSL. June 10th, 2016. Accessed November 19th, 2022. https://www.ksl.com/article/40122829/jewish-community-in-joplin-marks-centennial-of-temple.