A Second Congregation

As Washington Hebrew gradually drifted from strict tradition, a new orthodox congregation formed and built its own synagogue.

In its early years, Washington Hebrew was an exemplar of Jewish tradition. Change began, however, with liturgy—eliminating certain prayers and using German or English instead of Hebrew in others. Eventually the congregation authorized a choir and included an organ in the service.

In 1869, a group of 38 members resigned over these changes and founded Adas Israel Congregation. Washington Hebrew called itself Reform; Adas Israel was strictly orthodox. In 1876—just in time for the nation’s Centennial celebration—Adas Israel built a new synagogue at the corner of 6th and G Streets, NW. President Ulysses S. Grant attended the three-hour dedication service.

resignation letter

1869: After resigning from Washington Hebrew Congregation, Bendiza Behrend became the first president of the new Adas Israel Congregation.

JHSGW Collections.

sketch of Adas Israel

1903: Sketch of Adas Israel Synagogue in The Washington Post.

Courtesy of Washingtoniana Division, DC Public Library.

Grant

June 9, 1876: The presence of President Ulysses S. Grant at the dedication of the new Adas Israel synagogue—and his $10 donation—held special meaning. As a Union Army general, Grant had issued Order No. 11 expelling Jews “as a class” from an area under his command, including parts of Illinois, Kentucky, Tennessee, and Mississippi. Blaming Jews for the black market sale of Southern cotton, Grant gave them 24 hours to leave. President Lincoln revoked the order. Although Grant never apologized, he privately referred to his action as “that obnoxious order.”

Courtesy of Library of Congress

executive mansion letter

Receipt sent to the Executive Mansion for President Grant’s donation

Courtesy of Library of Congress

Adas and Pension Building

Circa 1900: Adas Israel synagogue at its original 6th and G Streets location.

Courtesy of Washingtoniana Division, DC Public Library.

resignation letter
sketch of Adas Israel
Grant
executive mansion letter
Adas and Pension Building