The founders named it Agudas Achim gathering of the brethren. Our synagogue was chartered on November 29, 1889, but must have been organized prior to that date. We were an orthodox congregation, founded in the midst of the great Transatlantic Migration of Jews from Eastern Europe, and an outgrowth of an earlier informal organization of traditional Jews of San Antonio.
Our first breakout year was 1890. The congregation hired a spiritual leader, Rabbi Moses Edelhertz, who came to San Antonio from Wichita, Kansas, in early September, in time to conduct High Holy Day services, which were held at the Knights of Pythias Hall on the corner of Houston and Soledad Streets. In addition, Agudas Achim purchased property on Palmetto Street for its cemetery and conducted its first burial there in October.
Also in 1893, the congregation purchased property on the San Antonio River, at the corner of Aubrey and Guilbeau Streets, for its first permanent home. The synagogue was designed by the noted architect J. Riley Gordon, and was dedicated in September, 1898. The design was of Moorish inspiration, with a large domed roof and smaller domes on the corners of the building. The synagogue had a separate balcony for women, and could seat 240, but could be increased to 500 with temporary seating. The ark from that shul still exists, and adorns the Vexler Chapel of the Heubner Road synagogue.
By 1911, Agudas Achim had about 75 families. The congregation established its Hebrew School that year and engaged Dr. B. Lichtenhartz, a political exile from Russia with two doctorates from European universities, as the first principal. The school had an enrollment of more than 200. It met at 248 Blum Street (where Rivercenter Mall is now located), probably because the synagogue was too small to accommodate so many children at once.Our congregation grew so large during these years that it outgrew the Aubrey Street synagogue.
Meanwhile, the congregation erected its second home on Main and Quincy. The construction of that building might have been postponed indefinitely if it were not for a great natural disaster. On the night of September 9 – 10, 1921, heavy rains fell over San Antonio and nearby areas north and northwest of the city. Between 12:30 and 6:00 a.m. on the 10th, the most destructive flood in San Antonio’s history swept through the city, inundating an area between six and seven miles long and between one-half and two miles wide with flood waters up to 12 feet deep. The heaviest flooding was along the San Antonio River, including where the Aubrey Street synagogue was located. The flood did not destroy the building, but it ruined it, and hastened the day when the Main Avenue structure was built.
After meeting in rented space for almost two years, Congregation Agudas Achim consecrated its Main Avenue synagogue on August 5, 1923. This building would serve our congregation for 31 years. By October 1929, the synagogue had grown so rapidly that the Board was faced with an unusual situation: the congregation’s home, only six years old, was already too small.
As a result of the post-WWII boom, the congregation outgrew its Main Avenue synagogue. Agudas Achim initially looked at property on San Pedro Avenue a few blocks south of Hildebrand, but in 1952 purchased a large tract on Donaldson and St. Cloud Avenues, near Jefferson High School, in what was then the heart of the Jewish community. Agudas Achim soon affiliated with the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism. The Donaldson Avenue synagogue was dedicated in 1954, and would serve the congregation for more than four decades.
Our congregation experienced a long period of stability and prosperity through the 1960s and 1970s. The Donaldson Avenue synagogue was the focus of what had become a large and active congregation in a growing and active Jewish community. Our Sisterhood and Mens Club won various awards for innovative programming. We had our own Boy Scout troop. In the early 1970s, we began our annual Israeli Festival, which remained and official Fiesta San Antonio event for more than 20 years.
By the 1980s, the Jewish demographics in San Antonio were changing, and Agudas Achim found itself 10 miles or so from the homes of many of its members. The congregation realized that it had to move in order to remain viable, and it purchased property and Huebner and Bitters Roads in 1992 for its fourth home. The 1990s saw a revival of our congregation.
Today with Rabbi Jeffrey Abraham and Hazzan Lipton as its spiritual leaders, Agudas Achim celebrates its present and looks ahead to a brilliant future, while recalling 12 decades of growth and achievement.