Community History

Washington’s first known Jewish resident, Isaac Polock, arrived from Savannah in 1795. An early land speculator in the new capital city, he built stately homes.

In 1828, Captain Alfred Mordecai was assigned to the Washington Arsenal. His daughter, Rosa, born in 1839, was the first Jewish child born in Washington. When Mordecai's infant son died a few years later, the city lacked a minyan of 10 Jewish men to say the memorial prayer.

A Jewish community formed as waves of the first German Jewish immigrants settled in Alexandria and Washington, D.C. in the 1850s. Washington’s first Jewish congregation formed in 1852 and, over the river in Virginia, Alexandria's first congregation followed just seven years later.

For a comprehensive look at the ensuing history, we recommend browsing our 2005 award-winning exhibition, Jewish Washington: Scrapbook of an American Community.