Congregation Mikveh Israel
|Kahal Kadosh Mikveh Israel|
|Location||44 North Fourth Street,
|Rite||Spanish & Portuguese|
|Leadership||Lewis Berry, President|
Congregation Mikveh Israel, Mikveh Israel synagogue, officially called Kahal Kadosh Mikveh Israel (Hebrew: קהל קדוש מקוה ישראל), which translates as "Holy Community of the Hope of Israel", is a synagogue founded in the 1740s in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Established by Spanish and Portuguese Jews, the congregation practices according to the Spanish and Portuguese rite. The congregation conducts daily, Sabbath, and Jewish holy day services. The congregation is also responsible for Mikveh Israel Cemetery, the second oldest surviving Jewish cemetery in the United States.
Among the oldest Jewish congregations in Philadelphia, Mikveh Israel has counted among its members prominent revolutionary patriots, such as Jonas Phillips, the Gratz family, and Haym Solomon, who financed the war. Congregant Rebecca Gratz founded and managed philanthropic and educational institutions devoted to the needs of women and children, Jewish and gentile; she is reputed to be the model for Rebecca of York, heroine of Ivanhoe by Sir Walter Scott.
The congregation traces its history to 1740 when a number of Jews organized themselves for services meeting in private homes. The congregation came to acquire a Torah scroll in 1761 and met in a private residence on Sterling Alley. The congregation moved to a building on Cherry Street in 1771, chartered itself as an organization in 1773, and dedicated its first building in 1782. It is estimated that in 1775, the city of Philadelphia had a population of approximately 35,000 of whom 300 were Jewish. Benjamin Franklin was an earlier contributor to its building fund.
In 1829, Isaac Leeser became the leader of the synagogue and held that position until 1850. Another prominent hazzan, Sabato Morais, succeeded Leeser. Morais served as minister for forty-six years and was an outspoken opponent of slavery prior to and during the Civil War. Dr. Abraham Neuman was rabbi from 1927 to 1943. Dr. Neuman was succeeded by David Jessurun Cardozo. Rabbi Albert E. Gabbai has served as congregation minister since 1988. Gibraltarian Shalom Garson served as Hazzan from 2010 through 2014.
The congregation that became Mikveh Israel first gathered for services at a private home on Stirling Alley, which was then between Cherry and Race Streets and Third and Fourth Streets. When Mikveh Israel built its first synagogue in 1782, its location was moved because of protest that its proposed site next to a church would offend the Dutch Reform Protestant congregants. Prominent Philadelphians such as Benjamin Franklin and Robert Morris contributed to its building fund. In September 1782, the congregation dedicated the new building on Cherry Street near Third Street. The building seated 200 persons and had accommodations for the clergy adjoining it.
The congregation laid the cornerstone for its second building on September 26, 1822 on Cherry Street. It completed the Egyptian Revival synagogue in 1829. William Strickland designed the building which was the first Egyptian Revival in the United States. The Cherry Street synagogue was replaced in 1860 by a building at Seventh and Arch Streets.
The Congregation announced in 1961 that it would return to Center City, where it would construct a new building. Dr. Bernard J. Alpers, vice-president of the synagogue, persuaded his friend the Philadelphia architect Louis Kahn to engage in the planning of the new synagogue building. Kahn produced ten designs for the building between 1961 and 1972. However, the Congregation decided that construction and maintenance costs were too high, and the synagogue was never built. A more modest building, shared with the Museum of Jewish History, was dedicated and opened in August 1976. The museum moved to a new building at 5th and Market streets on November 15, 2010. The synagogue is located at 44 North Fourth Street in the Old City neighborhood, just north of Market Street and in close proximity to Christ Church.
Relationship with Christ Church
Mikveh Israel and Christ Church have a long-standing relationship dating from the founding of the synagogue to the present day. The present location of Mikveh Israel places the two congregations as close neighbors.
Christ Church was supportive of Mikveh Israel's first plan to construct a building in the 18th-century. When Mikveh Israel's synagogue burned in 1872, Christ Church contributed funds to the construction of the new building. The congregations have a long-standing custom of sharing a fellowship-dinner once a year which alternates between the buildings of the two congregations.
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