Washington’s first congregation began in 1852 when twenty-one German-speaking immigrants met in a home on Pennsylvania Avenue near 21st Street, NW.
After renting space for nearly a decade, in 1863 the congregation purchased and converted a church at 8th and I Street, NW. The new site was near the city’s emerging retail core along 7th Street, NW, where many members lived and worked.
Traditional practice soon gave way to religious reforms including the use of German and English. When the congregation added an organ to their service in 1869, some members left to form the orthodox Adas Israel Congregation.
President William McKinley laid the cornerstone of a grand new temple on the 8th Street site in 1897.
By the 1930s and 1940s, many members had established themselves financially and professionally. They began leaving downtown for new, more fashionable neighborhoods, primarily those west of Rock Creek Park. In 1955, President Dwight D. Eisenhower dedicated Washington Hebrew’s modern 2,400-seat synagogue at Massachusetts Avenue and Macomb Street, NW.
Today, with over 3,000 households, Washington Hebrew Congregation is the area’s largest Jewish congregation and among the largest Reform congregations in the country.