Synagogue Growth

A triad of synagogues dominated the 7th Street neighborhood, while other congregations formed throughout the city.

The city’s three oldest congregations—Washington Hebrew, Adas Israel, and Ohev Sholom—were located within three city blocks of each other. They represented the spectrum of Jewish religious practice at the time: Reform, Conservative, and Orthodox. On High Holidays, police closed I Street to traffic to permit worshippers to walk between the shuls. On Sabbath mornings, young people from the synagogues socialized at a small triangular park at 5th and I Streets, NW. Women created a voice in the traditionally male-dominated synagogues by founding religious schools and sisterhoods.

Between 1880 and the 1920s, several new synagogues—mostly Orthodox—opened throughout the city.

The big task with us women is that of encouraging one another to take the reins in our hands and stimulate our women to the task of religious self-assertion.

Carrie Simon, 1921

Adas Israel sketch
building committee

1908: Adas Israel completed a new, larger building at 6th and I Streets, NW. Designed by Baltimore architect Louis Levi, the sanctuary sat 1,600 and featured the Moorish architecture popular at the time. Originally Orthodox, the congregation affiliated with the Conservative movement in 1928.

Adas Israel drawing: Courtesy of Adas Israel Congregation; Building committee: The Washington Post

WHC Photo

1898: Washington Hebrew built an impressive new structure on the site of its original synagogue near 8th and I Streets, NW. President William McKinley attended the cornerstone laying ceremony.

Courtesy of Washingtoniana Division, DC Public Library.

Carrie Simon

1905: Carrie Simon, wife of Rabbi Abram Simon, founded the congregation’s ladies auxiliary. In 1913 she brought together representatives from sisterhoods across the nation to create Reform Judaism’s National Federation of Temple Sisterhoods.

Courtesy of Washington Hebrew Congregation.

Sketch of Ohev Sholom

1906: Nearly twenty years after holding their first services above Myer Fisher’s 7th Street clothing store, Ohev Sholom Congregation purchased a church at 5th and I Streets, NW. They replaced the steeple with a dome and converted it to a synagogue. The Orthodox congregation was the first formed by the city’s Russian Jews.

Courtesy of Washingtoniana Division, DC Public Library.

Beth El Hebrew

1859:
Beth El Hebrew Congregation, Northern Virginia’s oldest, was established. The German-speaking members built their first synagogue, seen here, in 1871 on Washington Street in Alexandria.

Courtesy of Washingtoniana Division, DC Public Library.

Agudath Achim

1914: In 1914, newly-arrived Eastern European immigrants to Alexandria founded an Orthodox congregation,
Agudas Achim. Members met in rented rooms until 1928, when the congregation purchased this house at 508 Wolfe Street in Alexandria.

Courtesy of Alexandria Library, Special Collections.

1928 Tifereth Israel choir

1914:
Tifereth Israel began meeting in private homes near 14th and U Streets, NW. By the early 1920s, the congregation moved to a converted house at 14th and Euclid. The congregation’s choir is shown here in 1928.

JHSGW Collections. Gift of Louis Kornhauser. 2003.11

Kesher Israel Congregation

1915: Georgetown’s Jewish community acquired a private home at 2801 N Street, NW, for the new Kesher Israel Congregation. This new Orthodox synagogue was built on the same site in 1931.

JHSGW Collections.

Beth Sholom

1920: Har-Zion Congregation formed on Georgia Avenue in the Petworth neighborhood. In 1936, the Orthodox congregation merged with Voliner Anshe Sfard, a small immigrant shul on 4½ Street, SW. The combined congregation took the name Beth Sholom and built a new synagogue at 8th and Shepherd Streets, NW, two years later.

Courtesy of Washingtoniana Division, DC Public Library

B’nai Israel

1925:
B’nai Israel Congregation and Talmud Torah began meeting in a house at 4708 Georgia Avenue. In 1929, the congregation converted a former church at 14th and Emerson Streets, NW, to synagogue use.

Courtesy of Washingtoniana Division, DC Public Library.

Talmud Torah

1887: Chazan Moshe Yoelson, father of famed entertainer Al Jolson, served the Talmud Torah congregation at 467 E Street, SW, from 1892 through the 1920s. Formed in 1887, the Orthodox congregation met in Isaac Levy’s department store on 4 ½ Street, SW, before they completed this synagogue in 1906.

Courtesy of Washingtoniana Division, DC Public Library.

Sisterhood meeting notes

1897: Minutes of the first Adas Israel Sisterhood meeting (background image).

Courtesy of Adas Israel Congregation.

Adas Israel sketch
building committee
WHC Photo
Carrie Simon
Sketch of Ohev Sholom
Beth El Hebrew
Agudath Achim
1928 Tifereth Israel choir
Kesher Israel Congregation
Beth Sholom
B’nai Israel
Talmud Torah
Sisterhood meeting notes