Washington Hebrew Congregation

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.

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Washington Hebrew Congregation, 8th and I Streets N.W., c. 1890

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1. Washington Hebrew Congregation, 8th and I Streets, NW, c. 1890

The congregation modified the Methodist Church they had purchased by adding a depiction of the Ten Commandments and Stars of David to the apex.

Washington Hebrew Congregation Collections
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Washington Hebrew Congregation, 8th and I Streets N.W., 1950

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2. Washington Hebrew Congregation, 8th and I Streets, NW, 1950

For the new temple on the 8th Street site dedicated in 1898, architects Stutz & Pease adopted the Byzantine-Romanesque style and massing then in vogue in Germany and America. The impressive building featured rough-hewn stone, four large stainedglass windows with Stars of David, and twin towers capped by silver domes that loomed 125 feet over the street below.

Courtesy Historical Society of Washington, D.C.
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Washington Hebrew Congregation 1954

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3. Washington Hebrew Congregation

Washington Hebrew Congregation sold its building to the Greater New Hope Baptist Church in 1954, shortly after its move to Macomb Street. The church still owns the building.

Photograph by Jeremy Goldberg
Washington Hebrew Congregation, 1955-present

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4. Washington Hebrew Congregation, 3935 Macomb Street, NW

Ring Engineering Company designed this monumental building with its flat, limestone exterior in a contemporary style characteristic of many large, postwar synagogues.
Real estate developer Morris Cafritz donated the site.

Photograph by Jeremy Goldberg
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Macomb Street sanctuary, 1955

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5. Macomb Street sanctuary, 1955

President Dwight D. Eisenhower dedicated Washington Hebrew’s new building on Macomb Street in 1955. The Ten Commandments tablets seen behind the president
dramatically open by remote control to reveal the Ark.

Washington Hebrew Congregation Collections
Washington Hebrew Congregation, Main Sanctuary

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6. Washington Hebrew Congregation, Main Sanctuary

Washington Hebrew Congregation Collections
Albert and Shirley Small Chapel, 1998

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7. Albert and Shirley Small Chapel, 1998

The Albert and Shirley Small Chapel, dedicated in 1990, was designed by Lou Bernardo of CHK Architects. The 300-seat chapel is available to members for personal occasions and provides a setting for more intimate services.

Washington Hebrew Congregation Collections