Historic Places: B'Nai Jacob Synagogue

Throughout the month of July, KTVO is again taking a look at historical places around the Heartland.

The B'Nai Jacob Synagogue in Ottumwa is one of the oldest of the heartland's historical treasures. Originally built in 1915, it was later added to the National Register of Historic Places. KTVO met with congregation and board members, John Cobler and Irene Weinberg. All men visiting the synagogue are requested to wear a yarmulke out of reverence for the temple.

"We have a very small congregation. said Cobler. On an average Saturday we have seven or eight people. We are affiliated with the Iowa City Shul and they come down a couple of times a year to hold the Torah service."

"Traditionally, most of the services are in Hebrew. said Weinberg. And in our prayer book there's also an English translation and sometimes there's a transliteration so that people can join if they want."

Formed by immigrants from Russia, Poland, and Austria the synagogue opened in 1915. In honor of the dedication, all religious denominations from around Ottumwa came together for the occasion.

"When this building was built, nobody had any money. They scrimped and saved. This building cost $10,000 and it was all paid for except $2500 when it was completed," Cobler said.

The synagogue originally served as an Orthodox Jewish house of worship, where women sat upstairs, separate from the men.

"They were separated and in some places they were even separated by a curtain," Weinberg said.

But in Ottumwa that would change when Irene TMs mother developed an orthopedic condition and had to sit downstairs.

"Well she sat downstairs, and people said, ~oh, she can sit downstairs, Edith Meyer, we'll go down and sit with her.' that's what I was told," Weinberg said.

Over the years the services have changed to conservative Judaism. The services are held on Saturday mornings. Visitors are asked to call ahead to confirm the times as they are subject to change.

There are four Torahs, known as the Heartbeat of Judaism, at the B TMNai Jacob Synagogue. "One of these Torahs is over 100 years old," Cobler said.

The Torah is read from right to left.

"How long does it take to read these books?"

"This cycle runs a full year," Cobler said.

John and Irene tell KTVO that the Synagogue was added to the National Register of Historic places in 2005, around the time of an extensive renovation project.

"That started about five years ago. We had a benefactor that came in and completely refurbished the synagogue from roof to basement," Cobler said.

The B TMNai Jacob Synagogue is one of the many historical treasures of the heartland, a place where visitors are always welcome.

"We've had classes or groups from Indian Hills, from a place in Oskaloosa. We have a minister who comes here for services every once in a while. We have non-Jewish people who come whenever they want to," Weinberg said.

"It just all ties in together with the history of Ottumwa from 1900 really, even before that. And through the years, the Jewish merchants retired or passed on. So, it still has a major historical aspect...since the building has been refurbished, we're very proud of it and we think it's very beautiful, "Cobler said.