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18 April 2012

Hebrew Benevolent Congregation Atlanta, Georgia

In 1844, just a few years after the General Assemble of Georgia gave approval for the building of railroads into the city of Atlanta, the first Jewish Community of Atlanta began to take shape. In 1860, in an attempt to secure a burial ground and to provide for the poor  that community formed the Hebrew Benevolent Society. In 1867, The Hebrew Benevolent Congregation was chartered as the first official Jewish organization in the city of Atlanta. Later it became known simply as "The Temple".
The history of The Temple is one that shows the rich heritage of the people who belonged and their contributions to not only the history of Atlanta but also the longer history of the United States. The people who belonged to The Temple were solid in their beliefs, they knew what was right and their actions supported this belief. The fact that The Temple has had very few Rabbi's over the years, is a testament to the stability it has provided to the entire Southern part of the United States.
Over 50 years ago the Genealogical Society of Utah, was able to microfilm the original records from the Hebrew Benevolent Congregation (FHL film# 978437). The records on the microfilm include some of the early historical data of those who were the first members. The entries begin in 1844, when Atlanta was still known as Marthasville. It wasn't until 26 Dec 1845 that it was officially incorporated as Atlanta. The author of the entries is not known but begins with the two original founding families.
Jacob Haas and his family, and Henry Levi, his family and his  brother Herman all arrived in 1844 or 1845. Not surprising they became partners in the firm of Haas and Levi. It is written that "later in 1850 Mr. Levi left and went to California". According to the entries at this time there were about 12 families living in the village. A later entry mentions that in 1847, the firm of Haas and Levi was amongst the major contributors to the Atlanta Union Sabbath School which was organized in a log home on the second Sunday in June, 1847. In 1850, we see the first mention of another prominent family entering the community. In an entry dated 1850 it states:
Dr. and Mrs. Aaron Alexander and their sons
Joseph Alexander
Jacob Clarence "Cooch" Alexander
Julius M. Alexander
In the entry dated 1851 it further states that Dr. Aaron Alexander, druggist, Jos A., "Couch" and Julius M. Alexander were included in the Pioneer Citizens' History of Atlanta. It is not surprising that the Alexander family would become pioneers of the congregation and in fact were pillars of that community for many years. A brief study of this family shows an incredible history.
Julius Mortimer Alexander was born on the 11th of April in 1844, in South Carolina,  just before his parents and brothers arrived in Georgia. Later on the 19th of August in 1873, he married Rebecca Ella Solomons. His mother, was Sarah Moses (1813-1892). Julius and Rebecca had a son, Henry Aaron Alexander, who later applied to The Georgia Society of the Sons of The American Revolution for membership. In that application he listed in family back another 4 generations from himself. The application at right shows his membership request following the line of Jacob Phillips of Charleston, South Carolina, his gggrandfather on his grandmother, Sarah Moses' line. He was also able to apply through the lines of other lines, including gggrandparents, Jacob Isaacs of Newport, Rhode Island, and Abraham Alexander, Sr. of Charleston.
The Alexander family not only became part of the foundation of a new community, but through the actions of their previous generations, became part of that framework that helped establish the United States of America. Not surprisingly, on the back of his application Henry Aaron Alexander, when asked to state his own previous military service states the following:

Captain of Infantry. United States Army. World War. 52D Infantry, 6th Division.

Just as his ancestors had fought for the freedom of others, so to had he. The history of The Temple involves so many times that our country faced hard times. From the Civil War, the Great Depression and on through the Civil Rights movement. At all these times, when it would have been so easy to leave disappear, The Temple and its members were there serving all of the South.
From the time it was first established as a way of serving the poor, till today when that great work continues, the history of The Temple is a great learning experience for all.

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