Our History

Congregation Etz Chaim

Was Founded by Congregation Ohav Shalom & Congregation B’nai Tzedek

On Sunday Night, September 7, 2014 both congregations met separately and voted with a responded “YES!” to merger and continue our future together

While there were several joint services held during the merger courtship the first official services as one synagogue were held on  Friday Night, January 30, 2015 at Cornell Road

On Sunday, March 29, 2015 – The 9th day of Nissan 5775

Congregations Ohav Shalom & B’nai Tzedek “married” and celebrated with the entire Jewish Community as they formed Congregation Etz Chaim.

By united these two incredible synagogues we know we have a bright future ahead of us. Our eyes are on the future but our hearts and minds will never forget the incredible linage of these two remarkable founding synagogues. Continue scrolling down to learn more about their respective formations, history and journeys.

The History and Journey of Congregation Ohav Shalom
1882 – 2014

Ohav Shalom was founded by twenty recent Russian immigrants in 1882. The original Ohav Shalom, known as the Russische Schul (Russian Synagogue) was located at the foot of Broadway in the old Spencer House. Over the next few years, the congregation moved several times, first to a small room on Sycamore Street; then to Fourth Street; from there to a rented hall on George Street between Central Avenue and John Street.
By 1888, Ohav Shalom had 30 members and five Torahs and it was felt that the time had come to formally incorporate. Ohav Shalom was chartered by the State of Ohio on December 29, 1888, and four years late in 1892, the congregation moved to a new home on Court Street. This property was purchased in 1899 for $9,000. By 1903, the membership of Ohav Shalom had grown to 90.

In or about 1904, the congregation purchased the synagogue belonging to Sherith Israel Congregation at the corner of Richmond and Mound Streets for $25,000. Ohav Shalom now had 130 members and twelve S’frei Torah, and an annual budget of $2,500.
The end of World War I witnessed the first migration of the Jews of Cincinnati to a “suburban” environment. In 1923, a group of congregants met with Rabbi Levin at the home of Joseph Ginsburg to organize an Avondale branch of Ohav Shalom. On December 23, 1923, a meeting was held to discuss the possibility of purchasing the movie house at Burnet and Hickory. Finally, on the eight night of Chanukah in 1923, $250 was raised to make a deposit on the building.

Under the leadership of Nathan Tulch, the move to 421 Forest Avenue took place. The new facility was dedicated in August 1949 and Ohav Shalom organized the first “Torah Walk” as the holy scrolls were carried from Burnet Avenue to Forest Avenue.
A major transformation of Ohav Shalom took place with the hiring of Rabbi Bernard Greenfield in 1947. Rabbi Greenfield was the first “Modern” Orthodox rabbi in Cincinnati. Within a year, Rabbi Greenfield had been offered Tenure of Office for life.
The Jewish community continued to move north, with Roselawn emerging as the new center of the city. By 1956, Ohav Shalom had already broken ground on Section Road for a new synagogue, which was eventually dedicated on April 12, 1959. Ohav Shalom now witnessed its second “Torah Walk” as the S’frei Torah were again carried to the new facility in Roselawn, this time in a convertible!

Ohav Shalom remained in Roselawn for nearly thirty years, and this time was not without change. In the 1980s, Ohav began to allow men and women to sit together during services. This lead to a break with the orthodox movement and the end of a long relationship with Rabbi Greenfield. By 1994, Ohav Shalom had joined the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism and fully embraced the Conservative movement.

The move to Conservative Judaism led to increased ritual roles for women at Ohav Shalom. And while these changes were occurring at Ohav Shalom, the 1990s saw the Jewish population move into the northeast suburbs of Cincinnati. Robert Baden, who became president in 1991, and Rabbi Flicker saw the changes taking place in the Jewish community and they shared a vision of Ohav Shalom situated in the new population center of Jewish Cincinnati. Their enthusiasm, determination, and hard work resulted in the 1995 purchase of the property on Cornell Road in Sycamore Township where the synagogue now stands. Construction was completed in August 1998 – just in time for the High Holidays. The first Sabbath service was held in the new synagogue on August 29, 1998.

Ohav Shalom’s third “Torah Walk” was held in September of that year; two holy scrolls were carried all eleven miles from Section Road to Cornell Road as congregants took turn carrying a Torah in quarter mile increments. This event earned the prestigious Solomon Schechter Gold Award, the highest honor given by the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism.
The first year on Cornell Road saw its first bar mitzvah and the first wedding. There was also the tornado, which devastated the neighborhood leaving several of our congregants homeless; yet, it inflicted only minor damage to our new building. On April 1, 1999 Ohav Shalom implemented full egalitarianism and women could participate in all rituals in the synagogue.

The 2001 High Holidays found Ohav Shalom not only without the services of a rabbi but also without a cantor to sing the prayers. However, Rabbi Moshe Meirovich appeared and served as both cantor and rabbi that year. Rabbi Meirovich eventually became the seventh spiritual leader of Congregation Ohav Shalom.

The legacy has continued intact through changes in location and changes in demographics. Congregation Ohav Shalom is just as forward looking as it was when first founded by 20 Russian immigrants in 1882. Today we still embrace the tradition of change and transformation that has been a hallmark of our history. And looking back on our 130+ years, we can anticipate continuing growth and transformation as Ohav Shalom adjust to the changing needs of the Jewish Community of Cincinnati.

The History and Journey of Congregation B’nai Tzedek
1964 – 2014

Late in the 1964, a group of families in the Roselawn area of Cincinnati, along with others in neighboring communities, gathered together and committed themselves to undertaking this task. Their goal – create a Synagogue dedicated to Conservative Jewish practices in the Roselawn area. At the time Roselawn was a major hub of the Cincinnati Jewish population and the site of the Jewish Community Center. Follow-on meetings to this first gathering yielded a board of officers, by-laws, functional committees, including a Sisterhood, and a name – Congregation Bnai Tzedek (BTZ).

BTZ as a place for Prayer – After announcing its formation, BTZ held its first Saturday morning Shabbat Service. The date was November 28, 1964, which appropriately enough corresponded with the Thanksgiving holiday weekend. Hence, the Shecheyanu pronounced at the Service had dual meaning. This first Shabbat Service was held in the Jewish Community Center Nursery School building. The event marked the beginning of what became and remains a distinguishing feature of BTZ worship. Specifically, the Service was entirely led by lay Congregants who assumed the roles of Service leader, sermonizer, Cantor, and Torah reader. In subsequent Services, these roles were rotated among still other members. Giving reinforcement to this practice, our Rabbis coached members in how to lead parts of the Service, and welcomed them to share the pulpit in offering sermons on Shabbatot. The latter resulted in the publication of two editions of member sermons appropriately titled, “Voices from the B’nai Tzedek Bima – The Congregants Speak”.

In the early years, the spiritual leadership of our Congregation included a succession of short-term appointments of Rabbinic students and ordained Rabbis doing doctoral work at the local Hebrew Union College (HUC). Though a seminary for training Reform Rabbis, those selected to serve us from HUC came from traditional backgrounds, and thus were very comfortable in leading a Conservative congregation. Moreover, their approaches to prayer and ritual practices reflected a flexibility that was also growing within the Conservative movement.

BTZ as a place for Learning – In September, 1991, the BTZ Creative School of Jewish Learning opened. From an initial enrollment of a handful of pupils, the number attending grew to over 60 in just a few years, along with the addition of a pre-school and high school program. The presence of the Congregation’s first truly full-time Rabbi, Edward Boraz and a nationally known Jewish educator, Candy Kwiatek, gave weight to this school. With this emphasis on education, intergenerational programs and adult learning programs also flourished.

BTZ as a place for everyone – True to its original mandate, BTZ was to remain as the Roselawn Conservative Synagogue for 36 years, using facilities of the local Jewish Community Center for holding services, furnishing classrooms for instruction plus office space and other areas for special functions. In 1998 the Jewish Community Center announced plans to move elsewhere in Cincinnati in light of changing demographics of the Roselawn area. Shortly thereafter, and in recognizing that most of the BTZ members were also living in other areas of Cincinnati, a decision was made to seek a new location for our Synagogue. Even more significantly, consideration was given to purchasing land for the eventual construction of our own sanctuary. A Kenwood area site was selected for purchase as it was a location central to many of our members, and a building drive commenced. Within a year, a capital campaign raised over $1,000,000 and building construction began in the summer of 2000. On August 24, 2001, the BTZ congregation held its first Shabbat services in its first real home on Kugler Mill Road.