Etz Chaim Sephardic Congregation

You're standing in front of Etz Chaim Sephardic Congregation's current synagogue. The members of this congregation have fostered and maintained Sephardic laws, customs, and traditions in Indianapolis for over a century.

Sephardic Jews are one of the major ethnic groups of the Jewish faith. They are descendants of a community of Spanish and Portuguese Jews expelled during the Spanish Inquisition.

Sephardim on the South Side (1900s-1950s)

Jacob and Rachel Sarfati Toledano, Indianapolis's first-known Sephardic Jews, arrived in 1906. Several other families followed throughout the 1910s. Originally, the Sephardim resided on Indianapolis' south side in the area covering the 800-1100 blocks of South Illinois Street, South Capital Avenue, Church Street, and Senate Avenue.

The Sephardim were not the only Jewish community living on Indianapolis' south side. A large group of ethnic Ashkenazi Jews from Germany and Eastern Europe already resided there and met the new arrivals with suspicion and ostracism. The Ashkenazim did not consider the Sephardim to be Jewish because they did not speak Yiddish. Tensions between the city's Sephardim and Ashkenazim communities lasted for several years.

During the early 20th century, the Sephardim also had to contend with Jewish leaders' alternate visions for the community. For example, the Jewish Welfare Federation (JWF) wanted to integrate the city's entire Jewish community into American life. Sephardic Jews' strong adherence to their orthodox traditions and culture, however, interfered with this goal. When the Sephardim did not yield to the JWF's efforts, the group was characterized as isolated and backwards.

Differences among the Sephardic Jews and the rest of Indianapolis's Jewish community resulted in the Sephardim's organization in 1916 of their own synagogue , cemetery, burial societies, and social clubs. These organizations helped foster and maintain Sephardic laws, traditions, customs, and a sense of community.

Sephardim on the North Side (1960s-Present)

By the 1960s, most of Indianapolis's Sephardic Jews had moved to the city's north side. This move was spurred on by improvements in the community's economic standing. Another contributing factor was the relocation northward of several important Jewish organizations, including the Bureau of Jewish Education, the Jewish Community Center, and multiple synagogues.

The leaders of Etz Chaim synagogue continued this trend when they moved into an old Lutheran church at the corner of 64th Street and Hoover Road in 1962. In 2005, a new building was purchased at 6939 Hoover Road. During each move, the synagogue ceremoniously transferred their Torah to its new home.

While today's Sephardic Jews have improved their relationship with the city's other Jewish communities and have integrated into American life, many still maintain their laws, customs, and traditions.

Images

Etz Chaim Today

Etz Chaim Today

This is an image of the Etz Chaim Sephardic Congregation's current synagogue. Located at 6939 Hoover Road, the move to this new building occurred in October 2005. In recent years, the congregation has seen an increase in the number of non-Sephardic members including Iranian Jews, Yemenite Jews, Israeli Jews, and Ashkenazi Jews. Photo Credit: etzchaimindy.org | Source: etzchaimindy.org View File Details Page

Kahn's Tailoring

Kahn's Tailoring

Kahn’s Tailoring, the city’s largest manufacturer of men’s suits and military uniforms, employed hundreds of Jewish immigrants. About half of the Sephardic community worked here during the early twentieth century. Kahn’s was noteworthy for providing benefits to its employees, which was not common at the time. Outside of tailoring jobs, Indianapolis’ Sephardic Jews were also heavily employed in the produce industry. Images courtesy of the Neighborhood of Saturdays Digital collection at IUPUI. | Source: Neighborhood of Saturdays Digital Collections at IUPUI View File Details Page

Original Founders, 1930

Original Founders, 1930

This is an image of Etz Chaim Sephardic Congregation's original founders circa 1930. In 1919, the community had purchased its first synagogue, which they named Etz Chaim, or “Tree of Life.” Photo from the Neighborhood of Saturdays digital collection at IUPUI. | Source: Neighborhood of Saturdays Digital Collection, IUPUI | Creator: Ernie and Betty Calderon View File Details Page

Moving the Torah

Moving the Torah

This is an image of the Etz Chaim Sephardic congregation moving the synagogue's Torah from its old south side location to its new north side location circa 1963. After the move, a special reception was held to celebrate the event. Photo Credit: Neighborhood of Saturdays Collection at IUPUI View File Details Page

Blessing the Torah, 1963

Blessing the Torah, 1963

Etz Chaim’s rabbi blessing the Torah after it was brought to the new synagogue at the corner of 64th and Hoover Road in 1963. Photo from the Neighborhood of Saturdays digital collection at IUPUI. | Source: Neighborhood of Saturday Digital Collection, IUPUI | Creator: William Levy View File Details Page

Cite this Page:

Lyndsey Blair, “Etz Chaim Sephardic Congregation,” Discover Indiana, accessed March 29, 2017, http://indyhist.iupui.edu/items/show/29.
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