Filed Under Religion

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. 

Images

Taylor Road Synagogue, 2015 Taylor Road Synagogue as it appears today. Creator: J. Mark Souther Date: April 19, 2015
Cleveland Hebrew Academy The Hebrew Academy of Cleveland, just down the street from the Taylor Road Synagogue. Creator: Carter Hastings Date: March 24, 2015
Unger's Market, 2015 Unger's Market, a kosher grocery store, is one of the many Jewish businesses and establishments on Taylor Road. Creator: Carter Hastings Date: March 24, 2015
Interior of Synagogue Details on the inside of Taylor Road Synagogue. Source: Cleveland Heights Historical Society
Chibas Jerusalem A prior home of Chibas Jerusalem, which merged with Oheb Zedek in the early 1950s, was located at 877 Parkwood Drive in the Glenville neighborhood. As shown here, the abandoned building suffered a wall collapse in 2013. The building has since been demolished. Source: http://www.clevelandjewishhistory.net/syn/chibas-jerusalem.htm Creator: Arnold Berger Date: November 7, 2013
Taylor Road Synagogue, 1970 Another view of Taylor Road Synagogue, taken from the other side of the sledding hill in nearby Cain Park. Source: Cleveland Memory Project, Cleveland State University Library Special Collections Date: 1970

Location

1970 S Taylor Rd, Cleveland Heights, OH 44118

Metadata

Carter Hastings, “Oheb Zedek-Taylor Road Synagogue,” Cleveland Historical, accessed June 30, 2022, https://clevelandhistorical.org/items/show/709.