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  • To the Editor:
  • Susan Gross

Many thanks for your series: Directions In Southern Jewish History (85:3 and 85:4). It brought to mind an observation I stumbled across during my research as the archivist for Agudath Achim Congregation in Shreveport, Louisiana. But first allow me to set the stage . . .

The northwestern Louisiana town of Shreveport was incorporated in 1839. The first Jews began arriving almost immediately and set up shops along the downtown streets. The earliest Jewish residents were primarily of German and Alsatian ancestry and sported a Reform outlook. Large numbers of Orthodox Jews started to migrate into the area from Eastern Europe in the 1880s and ‘90s. At first they organized informal prayer groups which met in each others’ homes or places of business. In 1902, these minyanim coalesced into Agudath Achim. The charter for the congregation was signed by 58 men on October 30 of that year. A small, wooden frame synagogue was built a few years later. Throughout the first half of this century, the congregation’s membership grew.

As an Orthodox congregation, Agudath Achim created for its members a Jewish microcosm in which they could spend most of their waking hours. Services were scheduled every day of the week. On Mondays through Fridays, there was a morning service at 6:30. Maariv services were held at sunset. The Sunday morning minyan met at 8:30. Following the Sunday minyan, breakfast was frequently served as a project of the Religious Services Committee.

Shabbat evening services were held at sunset. In addition, beginning around 1919, “second services” were conducted in Hebrew and English on Friday nights between 8 and 8:30 for nine months out of the year (for the period extending from the end of Sukkot to the beginning of Pesach). A “social hour” always followed the late Friday evening service.

Shabbat morning services met originally at 7:30. Sermons were given in Yiddish. Sometimes, a young and energetic rabbi would lead hikes after services, out of the downtown district and into the countryside west of the city. The Shabbat afternoon service began 45 minutes before sunset. It was followed by a “shalos seudos” (third Sabbath meal) and then the evening service. Holiday services followed a similar schedule.

Agudath Achim members viewed the High Holidays as the high point of the year. Starting months in advance, plans were made for special features of the holiday worship service. Whether a rabbi was on staff or not, special cantors were hired and imported from big cities to lend their operatic voices to the festivities. Large committees were formed to [End Page 353] handle such details as the selling of aliyot, the distribution of seat tickets, the pricing of the tickets, collecting tickets at the door, ushering, walking the floor to keep order during services, keeping order outside the synagogue, and the serving of refreshments. Aliyah honors were auctioned and awarded to the highest bidder.

A child could go from one organized Jewish activity to another every day of the week. He or she could attend Hebrew School on a weekday afternoon, and Young Judaea functions in the evening. At one point in the 1920s, there were four different Young Judaea chapters sponsored by the synagogue. There was Junior Congregation on Saturday morning, followed by a luncheon and study session. When Shabbat was over, there might be a basketball game with all-Jewish teams or a dance. There was Sunday School the next morning, or perhaps a special father-child minyan breakfast. There were also the Youth Chorale, Hobby Town, Zionist youth clubs, and special recognition events for Jewish Boy and Girl Scouts. In the summer, there were sessions of Hebrew School every morning, as well as the local Jewish day camp.

The high schools in town had their own sororities and fraternities, to which Jews were not admitted. Hence there evolved a plethora of girls and boys organizations at the synagogue, some even sporting Greek names.

Similarly, since country clubs, supper clubs, and civic organizations such as the Junior League excluded Jews, there were dozens of synagogue clubs for adults. For the women there was the Ladies Auxiliary, Hebrew Ladies Aid Society, Ladies Hebrew Orthodox Charity Society...

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