Our History

During the summer of 1959, two Jewish young women, who were in Chautauqua studying music, made inquiries and discovered that there was a synagogue in Jamestown. They asked whether they might attend Friday night services. Their housemother helped them to contact the Rabbi of Jamestown who agreed to come to Chautauqua for a Saturday morning service. The two young women posted signs around the Institute and on Saturday morning 35 people came to the first Jewish service in the Hall of Missions. The Hebrew Congregation was formally established in 1960, and celebrated its 50th Anniversary on the grounds of Chautauqua Institution in 2010.  Throughout the years, the support and encouragement from the Chautauqua Administration and Department of Religion have been essential to our success.

The First Services

Rabbi Julius Kerman, from Jamestown, agreed to conduct the first Shabbat service at Chautauqua and continued to do so for the remained of that summer. He recalled driving on the Grounds with his wife and twelve copies of the Union Prayer Book. The fledging Congregation also had an outstanding cantor, Cantor Joseph Posner, who treated the Congregation to wonderful music to accompany the services. Each week, as word got around ,the attendance at services grew.


Rabbi Kerman informed the Congregation that the President of Chautauqua Institution “did not approve of our services.” The Congregation was no longer allowed to use the Hall of Missions nor conduct services on the grounds. Rabbi Kerman did not let that decision go without a challenge. He contacted a Chautauqua Board member, Bishop William Crittenden, who was about to become President of Chautauqua. With Crittenden’s help the services were permitted and Hulburt Memorial Church, the only church on the grounds owned by the institution, opened their doors to the use of the church to the Hebrew Congregation for their Saturday services.

A Leadership Vacuum

The Congregation grew during the years following that initial service. Many of those who attended services during the nine-week Chautauqua season were New York City teachers and school administrators. Most of them were steeped in Hebrew, Yiddush and even Latin or Greek.

As these initial congregants passed away, a leadership vacuum existed.

Eva Rosenberg Steps In

Eva Rosenberg and her colleague, Rebecca Lister, stepped in and for the next 12 years assumed responsibility for maintaining the existence of the congregation.

From 1987-1992 we went through a period of lacking leadership. Rebecca Lister and myself (Eva) made an effort to keep the Hebrew Congregation going, and in the year 1992, I assumed the presidency, with Rebecca Lister as Vice President. Rebecca had an excellent background in organization having worked with her husband in Pleasantville, NY as directors of a Hebrew school… with a good Board, we started to function at the Hurlburt Church.

(Eva Rosenberg)


Eva and Rebecca engaged the services of the rabbis and cantorial song leaders each year. Thanks to contributors and occasional large donors the congregation survived. Each week, Eva reminded people that we are a “congregation without a dues structure”, stressing that “when you walk through the door, you are a member of our Congregation”.

The generosity of those who attended services allowed the Congregation to pay a sum to the Hurlbut Church for use of their space, a tradition that continues to this day. Both the visiting rabbis and cantors were also paid from contributions.

In turn, the Congregation gave tzedakah, donating to the scholarship fund in music for incoming students as well as to the Chautauqua fund.

Programs and Speakers

Despite not having leadership during 1988-1991, the Congregation continued to offer programs.

Rebecca led discussions in both Hebrew and Yiddish. The Congregation’s Wednesday Jewish Hour was another venue for lectures, discussions, and other special events for the community. Rebecca played a leading role in planning these programs which included book discussions, updates on the situation in Israel and reading letters from friends in Israel. Now known as “Wednesday Lunch and Learn”, the Congregation continues to offer a lively hour of lectures, discussions, and presentations.

Shirley Lazarus took on the large responsibility of assembling a group of speakers and entertainers for the Congregation’s Sunday Social Hour. The Sunday Evening Speaker Series now carries her name.

For a complete history of the Jewish presence at Chautauqua and the Hebrew Congregation see “Shalom Chautauqua” by Betty and Arthur Salz available in the Chautauqua Bookstore.