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Jewish Heritage: The Oral Histories - Cuba Family Archives




DATES:                     JUNE 19, 1986

                               JUNE 24, 1986

                               JUNE 30, 1986

                               JULY 3, 1986

                               JULY 8, 1986

                               JULY 10, 1986

Transcript (PDF)

Rabbi Harry Epstein was born in 1903 in Plunge, Lithuania, into a rabbinical family.  In 1909, the Epstein family moved to Chicago, Illinois, where his father became the rabbi of the largest synagogue in Chicago.  Rabbi Harry Epstein was educated in a yeshiva in Chicago and New York.  He returned to Lithuania to study under his uncle at Slobodka Yeshiva and later in Palestine at the Hebron Yeshiva.  He was ordained in 1926.  In 1927, he returned to the United States and took his first rabbinate position at an Orthodox congregation in Tulsa, Oklahoma.  In 1928, he took the rabbinate position at Ahavath Achim Congregation in Atlanta, Georgia, where he served for more than 50 years.  Under his leadership, he lead the congregation from an Orthodox orientation to Conservative Judaism, where he introduced a Sunday school, mixed seating of men and women, and the bat mitzvah ceremony for girls.   He continued his studies at Emory University in Atlanta, earning a B.A. Degree in Philosophy and an MA. Degree in Theology in 1932.  He earned his Ph.D. Degree in Theology from the University of Illinois School of Law.  During his rabbinical career, Rabbi Epstein was involved with numerous and various local organizations with the Atlanta Jewish community and national Jewish affairs.  He was also involved with the Zionist movement.  He married Reva Chashesman in 1929.  They had two daughters.

Scope of Interview
Rabbi Harry Epstein was born in 1903 in Plunge, Lithuania.   He discusses his mother’s family and being born into a rabbinic family on both sides of his family.  He talks about his family’s move to Chicago, Illinois in 1909 and that his father served as rabbi of the largest synagogue in Chicago.   He recalls his education in Hebrew studies at a yeshiva in Chicago and Yeshiva University in New York.   He discusses his relationship with his father and his father’s influence on his decision to become a rabbi.  He discusses his close relationship with his uncle, who he studied under in at the Slobodka Yeshiva in Lithuania.  He reflects that Lithuania was the cultural and educational capital and the place where rationalistic movements started.  He reflects also on his rabbinic studies in Palestine and the colonization of Palestine.   He recalls his receiving his ordination in 1926 from six prominent rabbis.

Rabbi Epstein discusses the philosophy of his rabbinate and his move away from Orthodoxy.  He reflects on his rabbinic career and the changing role of the rabbi over the years.  He talks about the Orthodox congregation that he led in Tulsa, Oklahoma, in 1927, shortly after his ordination.   He discusses taking the rabbinate at Ahavath Achim Congregation in Atlanta a few years after that.  He reflects on his introducing Sunday school, mixed seating of men and women, and the bat mitzvah as an integral ceremony for girls at Ahavath Achim.  He talks about leading the congregation from an Orthodox orientation to Conservative Judaism.  He describes the Atlanta Jewish community when he first arrived as a growing community with youth and a great place for scholars.

He discusses his relationship to Jews in Atlanta and the many prominent members of the Atlanta Jewish community.  He discusses the relationship between American Jews and Israel.    He talks about his career in national Jewish affairs and Zionism.  He mentions his marriage to Reva Chashesman in 1929 and their two daughters.

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