Against the background of the Civil War, Tree of Life Congregation was founded in June 1864. Led by Gustavus Grafner, who withdrew from Congregation Rodef Shalom, sixteen men organized the Congregation, called it Etz Hayyim, Tree of Life, and held their first service in Mr. Grafner's Second Avenue home on Friday evening, June 8, 1864. Mr. Grafner became the first President. Events moved swiftly over the next few weeks. Burial ground was purchased in Sharpsburg. Isaac Wolf officiated as Chazzan and Sexton at High Holiday services held that year at the once-popular Lafayette Hall, at the corner of Fourth Avenue and Wood Street.
Alexander Fink was elected President in 1872, and guided the destinies of the Congregation for twenty years. During his tenure, the Tree of Life sprouted from a young sapling in communal life to a strong and sturdy oak whose deep roots tapped into every facet of Jewish life in the community.
In March, 1883, the Synagogue finally settled into its new home at Fourth Avenue and Ross street, now the location of the City County Building, where it was to remain for twenty-three years. Three years later, in 1886, the Congregation agreed to affiliate with the newly-organized Jewish Theological Seminary in New York City. Our congregation is one of only five Conservative congregations which still exist which were originally affiliated with the Seminary over one hundred years ago.