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Rural Shuls Make Do Without Rabbis

URL: http://www.jewishjournal.com/membership/article/rural_shuls_make_do_without_rabbis_20050909

There's been a Jewish community in Muskogee, Okla., since 1867, when furrier Joseph Sonderheim opened his import-export business. In 1916 the first synagogue was dedicated, Congregation Beth Ahaba, a lay-led Reform congregation that served a tight-knit Jewish community of merchants and professionals. "As Oklahoma grew and prospered through the 1920s, so did our congregation," said Nancy Stolper, 77, who moved to Muskogee 50 years ago. Beth Ahaba reached its height of 75 families in 1929 but dwindled to 40 families during the Depression, as stores shut down and people moved away to find work. Since then, Beth Ahaba's fortunes have declined steadily. Its young people, including the Stolpers' four children, grew up and moved away. Its last student rabbi left 15 years ago. "We're now just a group of frail senior citizens," said Stolper, noting that only eight to 10 members are still able to get to synagogue. Three months ago they gave up their monthly Friday night services, and this High Holiday season, she fears, will be their last.

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