Our History

For more than a century, Congregation Ahavath Chesed has been the home of Reform Judaism here in Northeast Florida. Below is a brief overview of the history of our congregation:

  • 1867  The “Israelites of Jacksonville” met to form a Jewish congregation.  Even though they failed to seek a charter, they set a pattern of worship that has continued to this day. The first Jacksonville City Directory, published in 1870, lists 23 recognizable Jewish names, and by 1880 there were 130 Jews living in Jacksonville. 
  • 1882  Congregation Ahavath Chesed was formally chartered with Rabbi Max Moses officiating at the dedication of the synagogue on September 8th of that year. At the time, the architectural style of the Orthodox synagogue reflected the European origins of our membership, most of who came from Prussia and Germany. It remained Orthodox until the mid-1890’s when the congregation adopted the Reform Movement. 
  • 1901  Tragedy struck when the great fire of Jacksonville destroyed all of the downtown area, including our beloved synagogue. It was rebuilt in the same style, but soon became too small for our growing congregation, and plans were drawn for a new house of worship.
  • 1910  The move to a new house of worship located at Laura and Ashley Streets was made with Rabbi Pizer Jacobs delivering the dedication address.
  • 1916  Rabbi Israel Kaplan became our rabbi and was responsible for the formation of the Interfaith Thanksgiving Services first held in 1917, with three other area religious congregations participating. This annual service continues today with the active participation of more than thirty area religious organizations.
  • 1927  Our congregation continued to grow and purchased a beautiful new facility was purchased in Riverside. Built in 1907, it was designed by Henry Klutho and served as our religious community center. All activities, including Sisterhood, Brotherhood, Junior Congregation, Temple Men’s Club, Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts that were formerly held in the Laura and Ashley Street vestry rooms, also moved to the new Riverside location.
  • 1940  Fire struck again destroying our beautiful building in Riverside. All records of the Congregation, including boy scouts, brotherhood, sisterhood and TIR were also destroyed at this time.
  • 1946:  Rabbi Sidney M. Lefkowitz became our spiritual leader upon the retirement of Rabbi Kaplan. Rabbi Lefkowitz is shown here in this famous photograph of Jewish services in Aachen, Germany. He was the first Rabbi to lead services on German soil in 1944 since the rise of Hitler. Rabbi Lefkowitz served until 1973 when he retired. 
  • 1950:  We dedicated a new facility to replace our Riverside location.
  • 1965:  The congregation purchased a tract of land on San Jose Boulevard to accommodate future growth. 
  • 1979:  We dedicated and moved into a new house of worship at our current location.  The Chapel and more classrooms were added in 1986. More recently, we added a new Education Wing, a state-of-the-art kitchen and remodeled to allow for a larger Library, the Archives Display room and additional storage. 

Although the dates and milestones above articulate a brief overview of the history of our congregation, we invite you to visit the Temple Archives for a more in-depth understanding of our past and present.