Had there not been U.S. military involvement in world War II there might never have been a Temple Mizpah. The story behind it is as unique as the name itself. By 1926 Abilene, with a population of 10,000, had only seven Jewish families. A few Jewish families settled in the surrounding small towns of Colorado City, Merkel, Ballinger, Anton, Cisco, and Roscoe. In Sweetwater, where services were held in Abe Levy’s home, he and his brother Ike acquired a Torah which they later donated to Temple Mizpah.
The curious Hebrew name Mizpah represents a special coin that is divided in two when loved ones are separated. Each of the parties keeps one portion of this talisman. Upon reuniting the coin is made whole again. It is this special reason the Temple was named as it was.
With the rumblings of World War II Camp Barkley was built in 1939 near Abilene to train U.S. soldiers. Thousands of service men were stationed there and many people, moved to Abilene for its growing opportunity. In July, 1941 the founding members of Congregation Mizpah signed their original charter from the State of Texas.
In 1942 at the urging of Chaplain Arons of Camp Barkley, Temple Mizpah was built. It was to serve the hundreds of Jewish soldiers stationed there who were separated from their families.
Mrs. Fanny Cohen, described as a fireball by her family, was a leading citizen, known to regularly play poker with the mayor and the owner of the newspaper. This influential woman donated much of the leadership and money to make the Temple a reality. The cornerstone of the building is dedicated to her late husband Ben Cohen who had arrived in Abilene in 1909.
Construction began in July, 1942 and it was completed one month ahead of schedule, in time for the High Holy Days. Designed by architects Hughes and Olds, the $4,855 one-story temple is architecturally a gem. The engaging mission style , with its stone siding is befitting of the prairie setting.
In 1944 the women’s auxiliary took two weeks to prepare a Passover seder, ordering kosher food from New York and Chicago. A hall at the base was repainted and all new dishes were used to prepare the seder. The Temple Mizpah women hand made 2,500 matzoh balls for the soup, serving an unforgettable Passover seder for 1100 Jewish servicemen! As the war years rolled on, the much-needed temple hosted as many as four weddings a day for Jewish servicemen.
Abilene never had a full-time rabbi on staff, but the man that Abilene claimed as their much beloved Rabbi was Aaron Klausner. For over 50 years they were to enjoy the kindness, knowledge and dedication of this special layman, always known to the congregation as Rabbi Klausner. He performed ceremonies for B’nai Mitzvahs, namings, funerals, and many weddings.
And he was not only a spiritual leader. Around 1960,
when the Temple needed new chairs, Aaron Klausner coaxed the congregants
to buy them saying, “I just paid $500 a chair at Tiferet Israel
in Dallas. I bought six chairs. I can get Samsonite chairs for $10 each.
I think this congregation should be able to refurnish. Within 15 minutes
he “sold” all the chairs needed. People bought chairs for
relatives, servicemen, and friends. Rabbi Klausner passed away in the
late 1990’s , but will always be known as Abilene’s rabbi.