My Yeshiva Owned President (OK, President Elect)’s Obama’s House

In case you’re not totally addicted to Jewish genealogy and/or aren’t a regular reader of Tracing the Tribe: The Jewish Genealogy Blog by the utterly amazing Schelly Talalay Dardashti , you may have missed this tidbit, and an even more complete article written by Charles B. Bernstein and Stuart L. Cohen and published in the Chicago Jewish News(;=252515). It seems that Barack Obama’s home was built,

financed by a prominent Chicago Jew, that it was once lived in by a Jewish
family and that it was home to both a Jewish day school and a yeshiva…

The Southside home – at 5046 S. Greenwood Avenue – is across the street
from the city’s oldest Jewish congregation – KAM-Isaiah Israel Congregation.
Secret Service agents guarding the home use the temple’s facilities…

The earliest document for the house is a construction loan, dated Oct. 4, 1905,
obtained by real estate developer Wallace Grant Clark from Moses E. Greenebaum.
A prominent mortgage banker and real estate developer, Greenebaum was a member of a pioneer Chicago family which became a leader in both the general and Jewish communities. Moses’s father, Elias Greenebaum, came to Chicago in 1848 and eventually entered the mortgage and banking business. Elias’s father, Jacob,
followed Elias to Chicago, so Moses was already a third generation Chicagoan.
Elias was a founder of Sinai Temple, Chicago’s first Reform congregation. Elias,
Moses and Moses’s son Edgar were all presidents of Sinai.

Now here’s where it gets a little bit personal (and VERY interesting):

The Hebrew Theological College (HTC), which is now located in Skokie, is an Orthodox rabbinical seminary. It evolved out of several small seminaries and established itself in its present form about 1920. Located on the West Side, its students and supporters were primarily Russian Jewish immigrants and their children.

HTC, known colloquially as “the Yeshiva,” wanted to establish a South Side base to service this Orthodox community. A Milwaukee philanthropist, Anna Sarah Katz, donated $50,000 to HTC, which enabled it to purchase the 5046 Greenwood property. It obtained title from the First National Bank of Chicago, which had acquired the property by taking over the Foreman bank when it went bankrupt during the Depression.

Elise DeBofsky Ginsparg is a member of a leading Hyde Park Orthodox family and now a book reviewer and lecturer on Jewish life. At a meeting of the Chicago Jewish Historical Society on Oct. 28, 2007, as reported in Chicago Jewish History, she recalled: “After my high school classes, I attended the Hebrew Theological College, the Yeshiva High School Branch, located in a mansion on 51st and Greenwood on the northwest corner, directly across the street from Isaiah Israel. The mansion was donated to the Yeshiva by the Anna Sarah Katz family from Wisconsin…I went all through Hebrew grammar school and attended Hebrew high school for four years…We were blessed with marvelous teachers who taught at the Chicago Jewish Academy, now the Ida Crown Jewish Academy, and came to the South Side to teach us.” She also recalled that in the late 1940s, the building on Greenwood was the first home of the South Side Jewish Day School.

The school later moved to South Shore and became the Akiba Jewish Day School, which later merged with the Solomon Schechter Day School in Hyde Park to become the Akiba-Schechter Jewish Day School, which still exists in Hyde Park. There was also a $20,000 mortgage, $500 to be paid every three months until May 9, 1957, and signed by Rabbi Oscar Z. Fasman and Samuel S. Siegel.

The Tribune reported on Oct. 8, 1950, that the Anna Rubin auxiliary, an affiliate of HTC, would celebrate its 20th anniversary at a dinner at the Anna Sarah Katz building. Proceeds were pledged to the college’s scholarship fund which provides free meals and tuition to students.

The Orthodox Jewish population declined in the 1950s; the house was sold in 1954 to the Hyde Park Lutheran Church for $35,000. The Obamas paid $1.6 million for it.

By the time I attended, and was ordained by, Hebrew Theological College, it was already anchored firmly in my old ‘hood, Skokie. But maybe there is some weird spiritual link between the old yeshiva and the new president that helped to bring me to support his candidacy….

2 responses

  1. Sara Shapiro-Plevan | Reply

    No WAY! That is so cool. I gotta share this one….


  2. Sara Shapiro-Plevan should read my blog which reported this story [first covered in the Chicago Jewish News] a day earlier. (Hi Sara!)


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