The Jewish community has a long history in Wyandotte County. The first Jews settled in Kansas after the passage of the Kansas-Nebraska Act in 1854. They came primarily from Germany, Russia, Poland, and Lithuania. Many were involved in the anti-slavery movement, and two Jewish men, August Bondi and Theodore Weiner, fought alongside John Brown in the Battle of Black Jack.
The early center of the Jewish community was Kansas City, Missouri, and the Temple B’nai Jehudah, founded in 1870. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, many Jews would gather in homes and businesses to worship in smaller congregations. Gomel Chesed was one such congregation and one of the first ethnic churches in Wyandotte County. It was founded in 1887 and was originally located in the West Bottoms at 925 State Line Road. From 1893-1903 the congregation doubled in size. After the 1903 flood, when the West Bottoms area was devastated, the congregation moved to higher ground and a new building at 70/72 Central.
Gomel Chesed’s dedication announcement in the Kansas City Star, December 10, 1904.
Shiris Israel was another local congregation located in Wyandotte County. The first services were held in a building on Minnesota Avenue, and they met for a time in the Knights of Pythias building before acquiring their own building at 438 Nebraska, purchased from the Seventh Day Adventists in 1913.
Ohev Sholom ca. 1925
The two Kansas City, Kansas synagogues discussed merging their congregations around 1920, and it was decided that they would become a Jewish Orthodox church. Gomel Chesed and Teferes Israel united under the name Ohev Sholom meaning “lovers of peace,” and in 1925, plans for a new synagogue building moved forward. They purchased the land between Sundusky and Tauromee on 7th Street, across from the planned Soldiers and Sailors Memorial, and fundraising began. The new building was designed for worship and to function as a community activity center. The spacious sanctuary would accommodate 500 worshippers, and there were classrooms for Sunday school and daily Hebrew School. The new stone and brick building was dedicated on August 30, 1925, beginning with a parade to move the Torahs from the old synagogue into the new one. Harry Friedburg gave the principal address.
One former member of Ohev Sholom went on to become a well-known TV and film star.
By the mid-20th century, many Wyandotte County Jews had moved to Johnson County. For a time, members commuted by bus to worship and attend Hebrew school in Kansas City, Kansas, but this became impractical as more Jewish families moved away from Wyandotte County. Congregation Ohev Sholom relocated to Prairie Village, where it remained until 2022 when it consolidated with Congregation Beth Shalom. According to Barton Cohen in The Historical Journal of Wyandotte County, “The Congregation of Ohev Sholom can boast that since May 1904, it has maintained a house of worship in Kansas longer than any other Jewish institution currently operating in Kansas”. (p. 278).
Learn more about Wyandotte County’s history in the Kansas Room at the Main Library.
Cohen, Barton. First Synagogue in Wyandotte County. The Historical Journal of Wyandotte County. January 1, 2005, p. 277 – 278.
Rieber, Ellie. “Gomel Chesed Synagogue (1893-1925).” Clio: Your Guide to History. November 19, 2022. Accessed May 3, 2023. https://theclio.com/entry/158337
Taylor, Loren. The Consolidated Ethnic History of Wyandotte County, Kansas City, Kansas Ethnic Council, 2002.
Post-War Exodus Took Most of the county’s Jewish populace, Kansas City Star – December 7, 1988 – page 251