Bernheim, Isaac Wolfe

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BERNHEIM, ISAAC WOLFE (1848–1945), U.S. distiller and philanthropist. Bernheim was born in Schmieheim, Baden. He emigrated to the U.S. in 1867 and settled in Paducah, Kentucky, where he worked as a salesman and bookkeeper. In 1872 Bernheim, together with a brother, established a distillery. The business was moved to Louisville, Ky., in 1882, and became one of the most important in the country. Bernheim made several gifts to public causes. In 1889 he organized the first ymha in Louisville and contributed its first home. He contributed to Hebrew Union College its first library building (1912), and later helped subsidize its second. Other benefactions included an addition to the Louisville Jewish Hospital (1916), sculpture for Louisville and the Statuary Hall in Washington, a 13,000 acre nature reserve near Louisville, and gifts to the village of his birth. Bernheim was rigid and autocratic in temperament. Particularly hostile to Zionism, in 1918 he addressed a letter to the Central Conference of American Rabbis urging the founding of a "Reform Church of American Israelites" to consist of "100 percent Americans." In a 1921 address to the Union of American Hebrew Congregations, of which he was a vice president and for over 40 years member of the executive board, he called for a Sunday Sabbath and argued that the terms "Jew and Judaism" were a "reservoir from which is fed the perennial spring of hatred, malice, and contempt." Likewise he urged that foreign terms such as "temple" and "synagogue" strengthened the accusation that the Jews were a "foreign and indigestible element." From 1906 to 1921 Bernheim was treasurer of the American Jewish Committee. He wrote two autobiographical works, Bernheim Family (1910) and Closing Chapters of a Busy Life (1929). He also wrote History of the Settlement of the Jews in Paducah and the Lower Ohio Valley (1912).

[Sefton D. Temkin]