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Kesher Israel Congregation

Merchants who lived above their shops along M Street, NW, formed the core of the Georgetown Jewish community at the turn of the twentieth century.

Many of the German Jews who came to Georgetown after the Civil War prayed at Washington Hebrew. A new influx of Eastern European immigrants, also shopkeepers, founded a new Orthodox synagogue in 1911 near their homes in Georgetown and the West End neighborhood. Members of the Georgetown Hebrew Benevolent Society hired a cantor, borrowed a Torah, and rented a private home for High Holiday services.

In 1915, the fifty-member congregation bought a private home at 2801 N Street, NW, and incorporated as Kesher Israel. In 1931, they built a new synagogue on the site. Georgetown, once a prosperous port city that had become an eclectic mix of poverty and wealth, was on the cusp of revival. However, membership dwindled in the 1950s and 1960s as Orthodox families moved to larger homes in the suburbs.

The congregation experienced a turnaround in the 1970s, benefiting from new leadership, the revitalization of Georgetown, and a resurgence of interest in Orthodox Judaism. Membership today numbers 300 families and includes many young professionals. During the 2000 election season, congregant Senator Joseph Lieberman brought attention to Kesher Israel when he refrained from campaigning for vice president to attend Shabbat services.

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The first home of Kesher Israel

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1. The first home of Kesher Israel

Kesher Israel’s first building, a private home on N Street, NW, was torn down for the construction of a new synagogue in 1931.

Kesher Israel Collections
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Kesher Israel’s 25th Silver Jubilee, November 15, 1936

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2. Kesher Israel’s 25th Silver Jubilee, November 15, 1936

JHSGW Collections
Kesher Israel, 2801 N Street, N.W.

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3. Kesher Israel, 2801 N Street, NW

The three-story building, designed by architect Julius Wenig, is virtually indistinguishable from its residential neighbors, except for the translucent blue-green stained glass windows and small Stars of David.

Photograph by Jeremy Goldberg
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Kesher Israel, 2801 N Street, N.W.

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4. Kesher Israel, 2801 N Street, NW

The protrusion on 28th Street, NW, the eastern side of the rectangular synagogue, provides space for the sanctuary’s Ark.

Photograph by Jeremy Goldberg
The Kesher Israel Rabbi Philip Rabinowitz Memorial Eruv, 1990

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5. The Kesher Israel Rabbi Philip Rabinowitz Memorial Eruv, 1990

According to traditional Jewish law, on Shabbat, objects may not be carried outside one’s home. An eruv expands the concept of private space and thus enlarges the area within which observant Jews can transport objects such as books, keys, and baby strollers. This map charts the carefully delineated boundaries of Kesher Israel’s eruv.

Kesher Israel Collections