Bernhardt Davidson, along with 34 other men, founded the Congregation B’nai Jehudah with the goals of “progress and reform.” The first president of the congregation was B.A. Feineman and the first rabbi was Reverend Marcus Cohen, a mohel who came from Chicago. The Temple instituted theological reforms from the Minhag America, creating family pews, and a mixed choir of both men and women. In 1873, B’nai Jehudah became one of the founding congregations of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations, and its President Feinman was elected to UAHC’s executive board. Over its history, the congregation has been served by such rabbis as Joseph Krauskopf and Henry Berkowitz, both graduates of the first class at Hebrew Union College, and Samuel S. Mayerberg, a formidable fighter for social justice in Kansas City.
The congregation’s first permanent temple was built in 1875 and located on Wyandotte and Sixth Streets with seating for around 300 persons. Quickly outgrowing the Wyandotte Street Temple, Congregation B’nai Jehudah moved to larger quarters on Oak Street in 1885 that seated 600 people. In 1890, the congregation added side galleries, which allowed for 150 more worshippers. The basement of the structure provided room for classrooms.
The congregation moved to a new temple on Linwood Boulevard in 1908. Upon moving into the new building, the congregation saw an immediate increase in its membership. The Congregation moved into its current home on 69th and Holmes in 1957. The temple and religious school are architecturally impressive with the ark, the Eternal Light, and the brickwork mimicking the outline of the chapel Menorah all receiving awards from the Kansas City Chapter of the American Institute of Architects. B’nai Jehudah also owns and maintains two cemeteries: Rose Hill Cemetery given to the Congregation by the Hebrew Benevolent Society in 1871 when the group dissolved and Elmwood Cemetery, purchased in 1921.
In the post World War II era when the world community was faced with the question of establishing a Jewish state in Palestine, Eddie Jacobson, a member of B'nai Jehudah, played an important role in the United States' recognition of the State of Israel. Jacobson was a close friend of President Truman. The two men fought together in World War I and subsequently became business partners and opened a clothing store in Kansas City in the early 1920's. During the negotiations over the US recognition of the State of Israel, Jacobson served as an important liaison between President Truman and many Jewish leaders who wished to speak with him regarding the matter. Jacobson friendship with President Truman created an open dialogue between himself, the President and National Jewish leaders regarding the creation of the State of Israel and led to United States support of the measure
The membership of B’nai Jehudah continued to grow throughout the 1950’s and in 1958 B’nai Jehudah announced that it would offer assistance in creating a new, but independent, Reform Judaism temple in Kansas City. B’nai Jehudah’s leadership felt that the congregation had grown too large give a meaningful experience to all of its members.
In 1959 Rabbi Mayerberg requested that he be permitted to retire and the congregation began to look for a new Rabbi. Rabbi William Silverman of Nashville was unanimously accepted by the board and supported by Rabbi Mayerberg. He began his career at B’nai Jehudah in 1960 continuing many of the traditions of the congregation as well introducing new ones.
In 1970 the congregation celebrated its centennial year. Administrator Frank Adler, wrote an extensive history of the congregation entitled Roots in a Moving Steam: The Centennial History of Congregation B’nai Jehudah of Kansas City, 1870-1970. A copy of this history can be found in the American Jewish Archives collection.