Society Hill Synagogue

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Society Hill Synagogue
Society Hill Synagogue.jpg
April 22, 2013
LeadershipRabbi Nathan Kamesar
Hazzan Jessi Roemer (Cantor)
Rabbi Avi Winokur (Rabbi Emeritus)
Jeremey Newberg (Board President)
Sahar Oz (Executive Director)
Year consecrated1829
Location418 Spruce Street
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Geographic coordinates39°56′42″N 75°08′58″W / 39.94494°N 75.14946°W / 39.94494; -75.14946Coordinates: 39°56′42″N 75°08′58″W / 39.94494°N 75.14946°W / 39.94494; -75.14946
Architect(s)Thomas U. Walter (1829)
Henry Magaziner (1968)
James A. Oleg Kruhly (1985)
Direction of façadeNorth

Society Hill Synagogue is a synagogue located in the Society Hill section of Center City, Philadelphia. The synagogue is home to a 300-household congregation with Shabbat and holiday services, a Playschool, a Hebrew School, adult education, social programs and arts and culture initiatives, social action opportunities, and community programming.


Society Hill Synagogue is located at 418 Spruce Street. The building was designed in 1829, and originally home to Spruce Street Baptist Church. Congregation Beth Hamedrash Hagadol Nusach Ashkenaz purchased the building in 1910. Within three years, the synagogue's official name was changed to the Roumanian American Congregation, also known as "Or Chodash-Agudas Achim" (New Light-Union of Brethren). The congregation was succeeded by Society Hill Synagogue, which continues to operate in and expand the historic property. The building entered the National Register of Historic Places in June 1971.

Spruce Street Baptist Church[edit]

Former members of First Baptist Church commissioned architect Thomas Ustick Walter to design the building at 418 Spruce Street in 1829. Walter also served as clerk of the church and superintendent of the Sunday school.[1] In 1851, the church was enlarged and a new façade with an attic story was designed by Walter with cupolas over the side bays of the façade. The congregation made additions to the rear of the building in 1871 and 1877.

Spruce Street Baptist Church moved to 50th and Spruce Streets in 1908, and in 1963 to Newtown Square[2] where it continues as an active congregation.

Great Roumanian Shul[edit]

The building was sold at auction in 1910 and was purchased by the Roumanian American Congregation, which represented the merger of Oir Chudas and Agudas Achaim Congregations. Oir Chudas was organized in 1886 as a beneficial society with daily services held in the second floor at 512 S Third Street.[3] Agudath Achim was organized in 1905.[4]

The synagogue became commonly known as the Great Roumanian Shul (דיא גרויסע רומענישע שוהל). It served the Philadelphia Jewish Quarter's Eastern European Jews in general, and was the center for the city's Roumanian Jewish community and fraternal organizations, hosting meetings and speakers. The Roumanian synagogue hosted Dr. Wilhelm Filderman for a mass meeting during a visit to Philadelphia in March 1926.[5]

Society Hill declined in the years following World War II. Immigrant Jewish communities assimilated, moved to suburbs, membership declined, and by the 1960s, the building had fallen into disrepair.[6]

Society Hill Synagogue[edit]

May 19, 2016

In the 1960s, a new community of Jews in the Society Hill neighborhood were looking for a spiritual home. This new congregation purchased the building in 1967.[7]

Restoration began in 1968[8] under the supervision of architect Henry J. Magaziner. The restoration cost $300,000 and included updates to the 1830 building, repair of Walter's façade, and the addition of air-conditioning, a contemporary kitchen, and new social area. There were approximately 100 member families at the time.[9]

Additional work in 1971 was directed by Cauffman, Wilkenson & Pepper, with John Milner. The building is listed as a Philadelphia City Landmark, and is on the state and National Registers of Historic Places. In 1985, architect James A. Oleg Kruhly designed a new addition. In 2005, the synagogue completed more than $80,000 worth of interior work, which included adding a permanent Beit Midrash.[10]

The synagogue purchased the building next door, 418 Spruce Street, to add classrooms and offices in 2007 and in 2009 secured a grant for repairs to the envelope of the 19th century sanctuary and annex.[11] Between 2007 to 2019, the congregation raised more than $4 million to complete the construction and renovation of the building. Construction finished in early 2021, and in June 2021, the synagogue opened its new adjacent three-story Paula Kline Learning Center, which is connected to the historic synagogue building by a multistory gallery annex. The renovation expanded the building's social hall, an outdoor space behind the two properties, and added Americans with Disabilities Act-compliant elevators and restrooms.[12]

While the congregation has based its religious services on Conservative Jewish liturgy, it does not affiliate with a movement organization and self-defines as egalitarian.

Ivan Caine served as Rabbi from its founding in 1967 until 2001. In the mid-1970s, Rabbi Caine also served as a part-time Rabbi to Congregation Kesher Israel around the corner in the neighborhood.[13] Cantor Alan Cohn served the synagogue from 1974 through 2000.[14]

Avi Winokur served as rabbi from 2001 to 2020. Nathan Kamesar was hired as Associate Rabbi in 2018 and succeeded Winokur as senior rabbi in July 2020.[15] Jessi Roemer has served as Cantor since 2018. The congregation now has 300 member households, more than 60 children ages 18 months-5 years enrolled in its Playschool, and almost 90 children from ages 4-16 enrolled in its Hebrew School.


  1. ^ Cathcart, William (1883). The Baptist Encyclopædia. L. H. Everts. p. 1208.
  2. ^ "History of the Church". Spruce Street Baptist Church. Retrieved 19 May 2016. For over 50 years SSBC has ministered to the spiritual needs of Newtown Square and the surrounding communities. Previous to this time, the Church met at 50th and Spruce Streets in Philadelphia from 1908 - 1963. Before that, the Church met at 418 Spruce Street for about 70 years. During this time the Church became Spruce Street Baptist, having originally been First Baptist Church of Philadelphia.
  3. ^ Klein, Esther M. (1965). A Guidebook to Jewish Philadelphia. 1530 Spruce Street, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania: Philadelphia Jewish Times Institute. p. 32.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: location (link)
  4. ^ Adler, Cyrus; Szold, Henrietta (1919). "Philadelphia". American Jewish Year Book. American Jewish Committee. 21. Retrieved 19 May 2016.
  5. ^ "Banquet Dr. Filderman". Philadelphia Inquirer. Philadelphia. February 28, 1926. p. 17.
  6. ^ Traditions in Transition: Jewish Culture in Philadelphia, 1840-1940. The Historical Society of PA. October 1, 2006. p. 50. ISBN 1422358291.
  7. ^ Low, Setha; Taplin, Dana; Scheld, Suzanne (May 21, 2009). Rethinking Urban Parks: Public Space and Cultural Diversity. Austin, Texas: University of Texas Press. p. 168. ISBN 978-0292778214.
  8. ^ "Society Hill Synagogue Undergoing Preservation". Preservation News. National Trust for Historic Preservation in the United States. October 1968. Retrieved 29 May 2016.
  9. ^ "Restoration Is Set For Old Synagogue". Philadelphia Inquirer. Philadelphia. June 17, 1968. p. 10.
  10. ^ Schwartzman, Bryan (September 22, 2005). "Touching Up the Jewish Centers of City Life". Jewish Exponent. Philadelphia. Retrieved 22 May 2016.
  11. ^ Gruber, Samuel D. (March 9, 2009). "USA: Philadelphia's Society Hill Synagogue Receives Preservation Grant". Samuel Gruber's Jewish Art and Monuments. Retrieved 19 May 2016.
  12. ^ Rogelberg, Sasha (April 6, 2022). "Society Hill Synagogue To Celebrate Long-awaited Expansion". Jewish Exponent. Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Retrieved April 8, 2022.
  13. ^ Dubin, Murray (December 8, 1974). "Orthodox Jews Fade Away in Society Hill". Philadelphia Inquirer. Philadelphia. pp. 1B, 10B.
  14. ^ Dubin, Murray (September 12, 1999). "Giving voice to an annual tradition". Philadelphia Inquirer. Philadelphia. p. G7.
  15. ^ Bernstein, Jesse (June 18, 2020). "Society Hill Synagogue Rabbi Avi Winokur to Retire". Jewish Exponent. Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Retrieved June 18, 2020.

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