The Moreland History Project has revealed little-known aspects of this dynamic neighborhood’s past, including the fact that it was once a thriving Jewish enclave.
By Julie McGovern Voyzey
Over the last year, the City and its partners in the Moreland History Project – including the Shaker Library and Cleveland State University’s Center for Public History + Digital Humanities – have taken a deep dive into the neighborhood’s past. There is now a more complete picture of the neighborhood, beginning in its earliest days in the 1920s. This body of work includes numerous individual stories that are singularly revealing, but taken as a whole uncover the many facets of this dynamic neighborhood.
Two pieces, written by Richard Raponi for Cleveland State University’s Center for Public History + Digital Humanities, focus on the period when Moreland became home to a thriving Jewish community that was migrating from Cleveland to inner-ring suburbs. While much of Shaker was reined in by restrictive anti-Semitic covenants and discriminatory real estate practices instituted by Shaker’s original developer, the Van Sweringen Company, the Moreland and Lomond neighborhoods lay outside of the legal boundaries of the Van Sweringens’ control. In 1937, a population study estimated that 15 percent of the population in Shaker Heights was Jewish. This accounted for over 3,600 individuals in 837 families.
Two Key Religious Institutions Anchored the Neighborhood
With the concentration of Jewish families in the southwestern part of Shaker, there was a need for a house of worship. It wasn’t until 1954, when Temple Beth-El broke ground at 15808 Chagrin Boulevard, that this would come to pass.
The vision for the Temple was articulated by founding member and Hildana Road resident Rabbi David L. Genuth in 1951. “Our doors shall be open to all seeking a refuge and a haven from the troubles of the world, regardless of race, color or creed. Our temple shall be a sanctuary to the poor and rich, the weak and the strong.”
With that as the guiding principle, the building was constructed and dedicated in 1957, and the “institutionalization of Jewish religious life” in Shaker Heights was underway. Within 10 years the congregation grew to 450 members, 80 percent of whom lived in or near the Moreland neighborhood.
During this time, Shaker Heights Mayor John W. Barkley and Rabbi Genuth developed a close friendship. Barkley and subsequent mayors made a tradition of attending services at the Temple on High Holy Days. Raponi writes that this personal involvement and support from the City marked the “beginnings of an institutional shift toward inclusivity that would later become a cornerstone of the City’s identity.”
While the tide was beginning to turn toward inclusivity in the early 1950s, it took until well into the decade before the City’s difficult history of discriminatory real estate practices began to abate.
Temple Beth-El remained an active part of Shaker community life and a spiritual home to modern Orthodox Judaism until 2000, when the congregation moved to Cleveland Heights. To this day, families who were Temple members still feel a connection to it. Many former Moreland residents have shared their memories on social media. Paul Wasserman wrote on the Growing Up in Shaker Heights Facebook page, “Thank you for the walk down memory lane. I grew up on Ludgate and was bar mitzvahed there. Rabbi Genuth was a special person, although he did have a tendency towards long sermons. The Temple’s major benefactor [was] Joe Bertman of Bertman mustard!”
The former Temple is now the Buckeye State Credit Union, which in its own way carries on the tradition of service to anyone who lives, works, or worships in Shaker Heights.
For more than 60 years, the building at 3688 Lee Road has been home to religious and cultural institutions that have contributed to and supported the thriving and diverse community around it. In the early 1950s the Jewish Community Federation identified the 6,600 square-foot space as suitable for their Drama Department and reconfigured it into a 175-seat playhouse, which included a stage, dressing rooms, rehearsal areas, and workshop space. It was dedicated in 1954, and the following month raised its curtains for Jan de Hartog’s “Skipper Next to God.”
The space was also used for banquets, religious ceremonies, fundraisers, and dances, and provided the only large Jewish-operated facility in Shaker Heights prior to the opening of Temple Beth-El in 1957. It served as an important cultural and recreational center for the Moreland neighborhood. Just two years after its dedication in 1954, with membership falling and the Jewish population shifting towards Cleveland Heights, the Drama Department was closed and consolidated in the old Jewish Community
Center facility on Mayfield Road.
In 1961, three religious institutions in the area that were faced with dwindling membership merged and the property became the Shaker-Lee Synagogue. Following the tradition of civic support, Mayor Wilson G. Stapleton welcomed the new Synagogue to the City in an address to a large crowd.
Like Temple Beth-El, Shaker-Lee was an important part of the neighborhood and created a connection that is still felt by its former members. Jerry Greenberg wrote on the Growing Up in Shaker Heights Facebook page, “I grew up on Menlo and was bar Mitzvah’d at that shul in March 1962. What a great neighborhood!”
Lib Davis wrote, “We went there and my grandparents went there for many years. We called it our shul.
Our grandfather went there, making the minion, until it was closed and sold to a church.” With membership diminishing by 1970, the remaining congregants were moved to Cleveland Heights, and the building was indeed sold.
Throughout these many transitions, the building has retained its identity as a religious sanctuary as it evolved from a Synagogue into a church beginning in 1970 and continuing today. Since 2001, it has been home to the Chapel of Hope Christian Fellowship, which, as Raponi writes, continues “along a storied path of community outreach and faith-based service.…” The building “acts as a reminder of the many religious communities that helped define the distinct character of the Moreland neighborhood.”
Richard Raponi’s articles may be viewed here:
- Temple Beth-El: A Jewish Sanctuary in Shaker Heights
- Shaker-Lee Synagogue: A Tradition of Service on Lee Road
Visit the Shaker Library website to read more about the history of the Moreland neighborhood.
The Moreland History Project has captured written and oral histories that illuminate the richness of the neighborhood. Through Miriam Rosenberg’s oral history, you’ll be transported back to the neighborhood in the 1960s and ‘70s to hear the charming story of a friendship that crossed racial and religious boundaries. Read the story of Dr. Benjamin Spock’s legendary twin study involving Miriam Rosenberg’s family and dig into the history and development of the shopping center along Chagrin and Lee. Residents who would like to share photos related to the history of the community can contact Shaker Library. The photos will be digitized and added to the archives. Please contact Local History Librarian Meghan Hays at firstname.lastname@example.org or 216-367-3016 if you have photos or questions.