Oheb Zedek-Taylor Road Synagogue
A Model of Resilience in Jewish Cleveland
Oheb Zedek is one of the most venerable Orthodox Jewish congregations in the greater Cleveland area. It was founded in 1904 by a group of former members of the congregation B’nai Jeshurun. The disgruntled ex-congregants vehemently disagreed with B’nai Jeshurun’s ongoing transition from Orthodox to Conservative Judaism. Accordingly, they sought to establish a more firmly Orthodox synagogue of their own. The next year, the group built and moved into a synagogue on East 38th Street and Scovill Avenue in Cleveland’s predominantly Jewish Woodland neighborhood. From there, Oheb Zedek followed the general migratory pattern of Cleveland’s Jewish population, slowly but steadily moving further eastward. By 1922, the congregation had fully relocated to the Glenville neighborhood, northeast of Woodland; by 1955, the group had moved again, this time to the inner-ring suburb of Cleveland Heights.
In Cleveland Heights, Oheb Zedek established itself in the building it occupies to this day: the Taylor Road Synagogue. In the 1950s and early 1960s, Taylor Road was in the process of becoming a hub of Jewish life and worship, reminiscent of similar streets in the Woodland and Glenville neighborhoods back when they had been the primary Jewish enclaves in the Cleveland area. Notable institutions like the Jewish Education Center of Cleveland and the Hebrew Academy were also located on Taylor Road, and in 1961, the Jewish Community Center was built just down the street. In addition, a panoply of Jewish shops, restaurants, and other establishments spread up and down the street. Oheb Zedek was far from alone. By 1955, when its building had been completed and dedicated, the newly renamed Taylor Road Synagogue had absorbed several other Orthodox congregations: Agudath Achim, Agudath B’nai Israel Anshe Sfard, Chibas Jerusalem, Knesseth Israel, and Shaaray Torah. Together, these congregations would maintain a thriving Jewish community … for a while.
After about a decade, the Taylor Road Synagogue was under pressure to relocate once again. Faced with familiar motivators -- an influx of African Americans into the area and the gradual departure of the Jewish population -- it would have been relatively unsurprising to see Oheb Zedek and the other Taylor Road congregations move eastward once more. Many other Cleveland Heights congregations had already moved, or would do so within the next several decades: for instance, B’nai Jeshurun, Oheb Zedek’s forebear and occupant of the grand Temple on the Heights, voted to leave for Pepper Pike in 1969, although it did not officially relocate there until 1980. Surprisingly, however, Oheb Zedek and its brethren, along with a number of other Cleveland Heights Jewish congregations, refused to leave. With the help of the Heights Area Project, a nonprofit organization run by the Jewish Community Federation, Cleveland Heights’ Jewish residents rallied together, embracing integration and investing in institutions in a way that previous Cleveland Jewish communities had not. In this way, Cleveland Heights’s Jews managed to preserve their Heights presence, and prevent the departure of some (although far from all) local synagogues. Taylor Road in particular retained a significant portion of its Orthodox population, ensuring the survival of the Taylor Road Synagogue.
The aforementioned happy ending comes with a strange recent twist. In 2012, Oheb Zedek reportedly merged with the Cedar-Sinai Synagogue in Lyndhurst. What did not become apparent until later that year was that the proposed merger had engendered heated opposition. In November of 2012, furious members of Oheb Zedek on Taylor Road filed a lawsuit aimed at stopping the merger. This lawsuit was aimed not just at Cedar-Sinai, but at three leading members of Taylor Road Synagogue as well! The members who filed the suit mainly argued that the merger had been somehow illegitimate, and therefore invalid. After over a year of legal wrangling, involving both the Common Pleas Court of Cuyahoga County and a prominent Jewish religious court based in New York, the plaintiffs and the defendants reached an out-of-court settlement. While most of the details were not disclosed, it was made clear that the two synagogues would not be making a full merger. Once again, Oheb Zedek managed to pull through and survive.