The Jewish Temple of Alexandria, Louisiana

Founded 1859



Rabbi Peter Schaktman
joins Congregation Gemiluth Chassodim as its 26th Spiritual Leader, serving in the position of Interim Rabbi beginning August 2016. 

Below is a list of Rabbis who have served the congregation since 1873:

1873-1879   Rev. Marx Klein
1881-1882   Rev. M. Weinstein
1882-1884   Rev. Abraham Meyer
1884-1885   Rev. H. Joseph M. Chumaceiro
1888-1889   Rev. Israel Heinberg
1889-1891   Rev. Hyman Saft
1892-1895   Rev. Louis Schreiber
1895-1901   Rev. Alex Rosenspitz
1901-1905   Rabbi Emile Ellinger
1905-1907   Rabbi Herman J. Elkin                
1907-1918   Rabbi Leonard J. Rothstein
1919-1920   Rabbi Harry Weiss
1921-1926   Rabbi Myron M. Meyer
1927-1930   Rabbi H. Cerf Strauss
1930-1942   Rabbi Albert G. Baum
1943-1944   Rabbi Abraham Shinedling
1946-1947   Rabbi H. Bruce Ehrmann
1947-1951   Rabbi Mordecai M. Thurman
1952-1956   Rabbi Robert J. Schur
1957           Rabbi Joel C. Dobin
1958-1988   Rabbi Emeritus Martin I. Hinchin
1988-1989   Rabbi James L. Kessler
1989-2011   Rabbi Emeritus Arnold S. Task
2011-2012   Jonathan L. Cohen
2013-2016   Rabbi Harley Karz-Wagman
2016-         Interim Rabbi Peter Schaktman

The Jew Who Silenced America’s Earliest Anti-Semites


Column for 1-31-2016

For my column for this week, here is a recent column from the Daily Beast, by Gil Troy, posted a week ago, on January 23 -- 

“Americans besieged by today’s hateful rhetoric would be wise to look up Jacob Henry, whose seminal defense of his own faith—and others’—was once memorized by schoolchildren everywhere.

The story of the Jews in America shows how a people persecuted by Christians and Muslims in the Old World were welcomed, not just tolerated, in the New World. Even when anti-Semitism has sprouted, Americans’ ingrained decency and love of liberty has triumphed, squelching any budding bigotry.

Today, alas, college campuses are witnessing an un-American outbreak of Jew hatred, not “just” anti-Zionism. “Nearly three quarters” of Jewish students in last summer’s Cohen Center at Brandeis University survey reported being exposed to at least one anti-Semitic statement in the 2014-2015 academic year. The Amcha Initiative, a group that tracks anti-Semitism on U.S. campuses, inventoried 302 incidents at 109 schools in 2015, including a vandalized menorah, swastikas spray-painted on Jewish student centers, a Jewish student punched in the face, and a YikYak message posted at the University of Chicago that sneered: “Gas them, burn them and dismantle their power structure. Humanity cannot progress with the parasitic Jew.”

In an age of zero-tolerance for subtle microaggressions, these macroaggressions should be generating widespread outrage—rather than being ignored, or even excused sometimes. To resist this scourge, Jews and non-Jews alike should learn about Americans’ historic and unending disgust for anti-Semitism. A characteristic but forgotten moment occurred in 1809, when a Republican rival tried expelling the Federalist Jacob Henry (PDF) from North Carolina’s state legislature—because Henry was a Jew.

Hugh Mills of Rockingham County had a strong case, even though Henry had already served a year and was an influential merchant-politician who owned 300 acres and a town lot in Beaufort. The grandson of a German rabbi, Henry was a proud, practicing Jew, and North Carolina’s constitution clearly said: “No person who shall deny the being of God, or the Truth of the Protestant religion or the Divine Authority either of the Old or New Testament… shall be capable of holding any Office or Place of Trust or Profit in the Civil Department within this State.” Mills said Henry’s legislative seat was “contrary to the freedom and independence of our happy and beloved government.”

Henry counterattacked on Dec. 6, 1809, eloquently deploying the reason of the Enlightenment, the passion of the Revolution, the egalitarianism of the Declaration of Independence, and the guaranteed freedoms of the North Carolina Declaration of Rights and the federal Constitution itself. In a magnificent speech that would be reprinted in patriotic primers for decades thereafter, with schoolkids North and South forced to memorize it, Henry, the son of immigrants, taught his opponents Americanism 101.

Henry, who had been up all night preparing, was rattled. He started by apologizing, saying “I must confess that the resolution against me was quite unexpected.” Analyzing Section 13 of the state Declaration, echoing the First Amendment, Henry emphasized America’s guarantee of religious liberty: “All persons have a natural and inalienable right to worship Almighty God according to the dictates of their own consciences, and no human authority shall, in any case whatever, control or interfere with the rights of conscience.”

With freedom of religion defined not just as a “natural right” but an inalienable “one,” Henry repudiated denominational tests for government service. If someone’s religious principles were “incompatible” with American ideals, Henry reasoned, I myself would “aid and assist” in blocking that person from serving. But invoking the humility so central to Enlightenment thought, which acknowledged that human reason and faith can arrive reasonably at different conclusions, Henry refused to judge others’ theology. “Who among us feels himself so exalted above his fellows, as to have a right to dictate to them their mode of belief?” he thundered. In his era’s male-centered rhetoric, Henry called such pronouncements “a question between a man and his maker,” because it “requires more than human attributes to pronounce which of the numerous sects prevailing in the world is most acceptible [sic] to the Deity.”

Moreover, Henry insisted, democratic “governments only concern the actions and conduct of man, and not his speculative notions.” He insisted: “If a man fulfills the duties of that religion which his education and conscience have [convinced] him is the true one; no person… in this our land of liberty, has a right” to prosecute him or make him “suffer civil disqualification.” This notion of judging what we do, not what we believe, protects our freedoms and encourages diversity in thought.

At this point, two-thirds of the way through the speech, Henry had defended the notion of freedom of worship and conscience generally. But this proud American, this courageous American Jew, embraced his religion, refusing to cower behind generic freedoms for all rather than specific freedoms for him and his faith. “The religion I profess…,” he said, “enjoins upon its votaries the practice of every virtue, and the detestation of every vice.” And then, articulating tradition’s cradle-to-grave nurturing, he said: “This, then, … is my creed, it was impressed upon my infant mind; it has been the director of my youth, the monitor of my manhood, and will, I trust, be the consolation of my old age.”

Henry ended by affirming that he had no need “to make converts to my faith” and expected “the same charity … will be extended to myself,” mischievously quoting Matthew 7:12 about doing unto others as you wish them to do unto you.

As Henry sat down, the entire North Carolina House of Commons stood up, in the kind of mass demonstration against anti-Semitism—and against all forms of injustice—we need in some pockets of America today. In truth, Catholics had already served as both speaker of the house and state supreme court justice. Rather than amending their state constitution, the legislators used a loophole, deciding that a seat in the General Assembly was not what the constitution considered an “Office… of Truth or Profit.” North Carolina law demanded a Protestant oath until after the Civil War in 1868, but it was not applied (and rarely relevant).

Today, few remember Jacob Henry, although the successful application (PDF) to list his house on the National Register of Historic Places noted two distinctions. First, his house stands as “the largest and most ambitious Federal house in Beaufort.” Second, the house testifies to Jacob Henry’s “early and significant contribution in the struggle to realize some of the freedoms provided for in the United States Constitution.” We should honor him—and mimic his colleagues, too—dramatically repudiating all bigotry today.”


Amen and l’shalom, Rabbi Harley Karz-Wagman

WEEK OF NOVEMBER 10 - 17, 2013


Why Teach the Holocaust in the 21st Century

This week’s dedication of the amazing Holocaust Memorial in the middle of our downtown should become the kick-start for wide ranging Holocaust education activities in our region.  Those will include teacher training (if we inspire one teacher, we reach 1,000 students); speakers in classes, assemblies, churches, and community groups (by survivors, their descendants, and experts, such as professors and the two Rabbis here, who have both taught this subject for decades); student contests (essays, music, art); traveling exhibits; and programs (drama; music; art).  Administrators from Rapides Parish School recently met with Rabbi Task and me and expressed enthusiastic interest in these activities.

While Holocaust education goes far beyond Jews (as does the Memorial, which was instigated by Mike Tudor, a non-Jewish attorney, who saw the memorial in New Orleans and asked Rabbi Task to help him get one here), we Jews need to have clear reasons for teaching this subject.  Our friends and colleagues will ask us, and we should have ready answers.

I have learned many reasons for Holocaust education, many of which are set forth on the web site of the US Memorial Holocaust Museum, in DC.  Click this link for a list of those reasons:

One of my favorites parallels the ones the Museum lists, but is more personal.  No subject so inspires and empowers us to fight oppression as learning stories about the Holocaust.  What inspires us is not the evil.  Evil fascinates us.  This week, we saw vast media coverage, including an article in the Town Talk (which means papers covered it all over the country), NPR, and all over the internet, for a recent story about stolen art in Germany, a dealer who had been selling on the black market over one billion dollars of art, stolen from Jews and hidden under some junk. 

Evil sells. Resistance to evil inspires.

In the story of every survivor, we hear pivotal moments, when someone could have turned that survivor into the Nazis or when someone (usually a Nazi camp guard) could have killed them. That someone (maybe a neighbor or a stranger or even a Nazi or a collaborating soldier) turned away and let them escape or let them live. Also in every survivor story, someone actively helped them, with food or clothing or a hiding place or an escape route. All of these someones risked their lives to save that one Jewish life. 

They become our role models. When we encounter (directly or indirectly) oppression, such as abuse, bullying, or human trafficking, we need their stories to empower us to fight back. We need examples of when others resisted what appeared to be insurmountable evil and power, and they won. The Allied Soldiers showed that courage on a mass level, and we Jews will always show gratitude to the greatest generation, who were, numerically, the greatest liberators.  Yet, the individual stories may have a deeper impact, since they depict people like us, with no special training or power or connections.  If they could help survivors during Nazi times, we can help the oppressed now.

We should remember also that every survivor was a resister.  While they will all call themselves “lucky,” they had to have astounding will and ingenuity to overcome. And, in every camp and every ghetto, some Jews (often helped by others) actively fought back, with whatever weapons they could find.

We can find further inspiration from rescuers.  Consider the Jews of Hungary.  Thanks to Swedish diplomat Raul Wallenberg, over 100,000 escaped.  Wallenberg worked with America’s War Refugee Board, which saved hundreds of thousands of Jews.  The American government missed opportunities to save millions, but we should credit them (and, of course, our soldiers) for their successes.  Four Americans – Joel Brand; Saly Meyer; and Rabbi Isaac and Rivka Sternbuch -- saved over 20,000 Hungarian Jews, through elaborate ransom schemes, all of which the American government opposed.  Again, we can gain courage and inspiration from the knowledge that these efforts succeeded.

Thank God, not for the Holocaust, but for our ability to learn from it.  May we find inspiration to keep teaching and to keep fighting all forms of oppression.

L’shalom,  Rabbi Harley Karz-Wagman

Rabbi Harley Karz-Wagman and Barbara Karz-Wagman

RABBI ARNOLD S TASK - "Arny" to most everyone - served 22 years as Rabbi for Gemiluth Chassodim, from 1989 to 2011. On retirement, he was named Rabbi Emeritus. He and his wife Judy elected to continue their residence in Alexandria, where they are actively involved in many aspects of community life.

Rabbi Task is a Rotarian, and was awarded the Four Avenues of Service Award in 2007. He has served as President of the Central LA Minister's Association, the Family Counseling Agency, Angel Care, and the Louisiana Maneuvers & Military Museum. For almost 40 years, he has lectured and taught Judaism and Holocaust studies at the college level. In fact his life's work and his legacy includes the teaching of Holocaust studies to students and adults; he co-hosts the annual commemoration of the Holocaust, and has played a major role in the planning, funding and finally, the realization of a Holocaust Memorial in downtown Alexandria La. Dedication will be held on November 10, 2013. 



Rabbi Emeritus Dr. Arnold S Task (Retired June 2011) and Judy Task

I would like to express my great appreciation to Rabbi Arny Task and Judy Task for their strong yet gentle support through the transition to a new Rabbi this year. There are a multitude of other reasons to thank them—he for his phenomenal work with the Holocaust Memorial and Commemoration; and she for her great success chairing the Tree of Life (with 25 new leaves this year!) and for helping so much with Yahrzeit and other archival matters; and to both for their many, ongoing acts of “lovingkindness.”

Marilyn Wellan 2014


This month, our first Rabbi Emeritus has a very special birthday. On January 30th, Martin Isaiah Hinchin will reach 95 years of age! Everyone who has been around long enough remembers that he served our Congregation from 1958 to 1988, and our memories are fond ones. Hinchin is current living in Memphis where he moved after his retirement.

Recently, the Memphis Commercial Appeal newspaper interviewed him for a story on their religious page (some of the material for this story was taken from that article). It seems every Tuesday morning, “Rabbi Hinchin visits local hospitals to check on injured or ailing members of Temple Israel. Most clergy make hospital visits every week, but Hinchin isn’t like most clergy.

“’I’m not as young as I used to be,’ Hinchin recently told a patient at Baptist Memorial Hospital. ‘I’m 94. I’ll be 95 next month,’ he said as he visited four rooms on three floors at a pace that would test anyone over 65. He was born during World War I and ordained just after World War II. When asked his secret, he replied ‘Clean living. When I’ve had problems, I’ve outwitted them.’”

The child of Ukrainian immigrants, Rabbi Hinchin was born and raised in Philadelphia. After his ordination, Hinchin served Jewish congregations in Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia and Louisiana, where he served our Congregation as Rabbi for 31 years. “’I fell in love with the people of the South,’ said Hinchin. Along the way he met such historic and beloved Southern figures as a young Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Louisiana’s “singing governor” Jimmie Davis, and Huey Long’s “crazy” brother, former governor Earl K. Long -“he called me ‘preacher.’

“Hinchin is twice a widower. His first wife of 44 years, Blossom, died in 1987, the same year he retired from the rabbinate. His second wife of 12 years, Carol, died in 2001.

“’I’ve lost two lovely women who I loved dearly,’ said Hinchin, who has two daughters, three stepchildren, and “a slew” of grandchildren and great-grandchildren. ‘The Lord has been good to me. He’s kept me here for some reason,’ said Hinchin. ‘I’ve had a wonderful life. No regrets.’ He survived a heart attach and lung cancer in recent years.” He stays busy and involved; he plays bridge three times per week and is just a few points from Life Master status. He just bought a brand new car—a Genesis from Hyundai. He calls it his “biblical car.” The dilemma was whether to purchase a three or five year warranty. He chose the five year which will expire when he is 100 years old. It was noted, he will need a new car by that time.


Rabbi Martin Isaiah Hinchin had a distinguished career here in Alexandria as our Rabbi. Photos of him and over 25 years of his confirmation classes cover the walls of our Religious School hall. Hinchin Social Hall, where his portrait is displayed, is named in his honor.

One of his finest achievements was book, “History of the Jews of Rapides Parish from 1828 to 1919”, titled
Fourscore and Eleven, which he completed in 1984 in time for the celebration of our Congregation’s 125th Birthday. It is a collection of historical record, legal deeds and documents, generous newspaper accounts of social and life cycle events, and signs of the times of each of the years covered by the book.

Lately, we have experienced a new flurry of interest in Rabbi Hinchin’s book, largely by the advent of our Temple website ( We have had a number of requests for the book through the website’s “contact us” page from people who live away from Alexandria. Fortunately, we do have a good supply of the books; we are selling them at a price of $15.

If you do not have your own personal copy of Fourscore and Eleven, you may borrow a copy from our Library, or purchase your own copy by calling the Temple office.

HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO YOU, RABBI HINCHIN. May you go from strength to strength. Marilyn Wellan 2014

Congregation Gemiluth Chassodim
2021 Turner Street Alexandria, LA 71301