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A Brief History of Congregation Albert

We are a Reform congregation and a member of the Union for Reform Judaism.  Congregation Albert was founded on September 26, 1897 and formally incorporated in the then-Territory of New Mexico on April 7, 1902.  The Congregation is the oldest continuous Jewish organization in New Mexico.

The first president of the Congregation was Henry N. Jaffa, who also served as the first Mayor of Albuquerque when the City, founded in 1706, was first incorporated in 1885.  The Jaffa family were German immigrants who became merchants in Las Vegas, NM, and later in Albuquerque.  The other initial officers of the Congregation were vice president Noah Ilfeld, whose family were also German immigrants and became pioneer merchants, ranchers, and wool and livestock traders; treasurer Alfred Grunsfeld, also from a pioneering German merchant family who immigrated to New Mexico in the mid-to-late 19th Century; and secretary Sam Neustadt, who operated a general mercantile store in Albuquerque and whose brother Simon served as Postmaster of Los Lunas, NM.  The initial location for the formation of the Congregation was at the B’Nai Brith Lodge No. 336, which was itself founded in 1883.

Those present at the initial meeting agreed to auction off the privilege of naming the new Congregation.  As recounted in the minutes of that meeting, “after some exciting bidding” the naming rights “were sold to the Grunsfeld Family for 250.00 Dollars,” or the equivalent of about $10,000 today.  The Grunsfeld family elected to name the Congregation after Alfred’s deceased father, Albert.  A month later the board of trustees directed the secretary to advertise in the American Israelite “for a suitable Rabi [sic].”

The 34 original members of Congregation Albert met and held religious services in the Knights of Pythias Hall on Gold Avenue in downtown Albuquerque.  Later, in 1898, Services were moved to the Jolly Ten Hall nearby on Gold Ave.  Dr. William H. Greenburg of London, England, was hired as the Congregation’s first rabbi at a salary of $125 per month and served from 1898 to 1900.  The first service, with 50 members in attendance, was held on March 18, 1898. 

The Congregation embarked on building its own Temple in downtown Albuquerque.  The cornerstone was laid with much fanfare and ceremony on September 3, 1899, at what is now the northeast corner of Gold Ave. and 7th Street SW.  The building was dedicated in April 1900.  The Gold Ave. Temple was architecturally distinctive, with a large oriental-style dome and two staircases leading to a second story entrance. 

The Congregation’s longest-serving rabbi has been Rabbi David D. Shor, who held that position from 1948 to 1978.  Rabbi Shor then assumed the position of Rabbi Emeritus until his death in 1998.  Rabbi Shor presided over the Congregation’s move in 1951 from the original building to a newly-constructed mid-Century modern style synagogue building on Lead Ave., SE, between Oak and Mulberry Streets.  Rabbi Shor’s rabbinate saw the Congregation’s Diamond Jubilee 75th anniversary in 1972 and the election of Ethel Cahn as our first woman president in 1975.  To commemorate the 75th anniversary, UNM Professor of European and Jewish history Gunther Rothenberg, assisted by Israel C. Carmel as chairman of the Congregation’s Historical Committee, authored a 600-copy, limited edition Diamond Jubilee history titled Congregation Albert 1897-1972.

Under the leadership of Rabbi Paul J. Citrin, who served from 1978 to 1996, the Congregation in 1984 moved to our current location at 3800 Louisiana Blvd., NE.  Our first ordained cantor, Jan Mahler, joined the clergy team in 1990.  Rabbi Joseph R. Black succeeded Rabbi Citrin in 1996 and served until 2010, making his mark on the contemporary Jewish music scene.  The Congregation observed our Centennial year in 1997. That year was marked with various celebratory events, the commissioning of a Centennial Torah, a year-long project undertaken by an Israeli sofer, and the updating of our history through an extensive poster display.

Our Cantor Barbara Finn came to Congregation Albert in 2004.  Rabbi Celia Surget was installed as our 18th rabbi since our founding, and our first woman rabbi, in 2021.

Congregants and visitors to our building can see several noteworthy and historical sacred and secular objects.  The ner tamid, or eternal light, that hangs above our ark in the Moise Chapel, the Ten Commandments tablet mounted on a high wall in our foyer, and a tall seven-branch Menorah standing in our entry have been in use in all three of the buildings in which the Congregation has been housed.  The concrete cornerstone of our Gold Ave. building, showing the date of commencement of construction 5660/1899, is also on display in our entry.  Among the Torah scrolls inside the ark in our sanctuary is a pre-Holocaust era Torah rescued from the former Czech town of Svihov, on long-term loan to us from the Memorial Scrolls Trust in London.

Anyone who would like to learn more about the history of Congregation Albert is welcome to leave an inquiry with a member of the office staff to be directed to the Israel C. Carmel Archive Committee.

Sun, May 26 2024 18 Iyar 5784