Little Bits of History

Religious Freedom

Posted in History by patriciahysell on April 8, 2015
Congregation Shearith Israel's Synagogue

Congregation Shearith Israel’s Synagogue *

April 8, 1730: The Mill Street synagogue is consecrated. Portuguese and Spanish Jews first arrived in New Amsterdam (now New York City) in September 1654. Anti-Semite governor Peter Stuyvesant, was not accepting them. The next year, they were finally given official permission to settle in the colony and they founded the first Jewish community, the Congregation Shearith Israel. While they were permitted to reside there, they were not allowed to build a public place of worship throughout the entire Dutch period and into the British rule of the area. They did make arrangements for a cemetery beginning in 1656. They were finally given the go ahead to build a synagogue and chose Mill Street as the original location. It is located in what is today, lower Manhattan.

Prior to the building of this first synagogue, the Congregation had used rented quarters on Beaver Street. Since this date, the Congregation has had a total of five synagogues in which to worship. This first one was used for over 80 years until they rebuilt and expanded it in 181. Then in 1834, they built a new synagogue on Crosby Street and in 1860 moved to 19th Street. They have been located at their present building on West 70th Street since 1897. The synagogue and Congregation have been members of the Sephardic Jews, a term literally meaning Jews from Spain and indicative of their community coming from Jews who had moved to the Iberian Peninsula at the beginning of the 2nd millennium.

Until 1795, all Jews in the US were Sephardic even though many came from Eastern European Jews. Their liturgy was distinct and cohesive. The Ashkenazi congregations were a response to this and the first of these was built in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. These American Reform Jews made headway into American culture and Rabbi Henry Pereira Mendes from Shearith Israel cofounded the American Jewish Theological Seminary in 1886 in order to train traditional rabbis. The training was given at Shearith Israel. In 1896, Mendes was President of the school and helped form the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America as a counterpoint to the Reform movement’s own Union of Hebrew Congregations in America.

Today, the newest synagogue sits on what was once a duck farm. Arnold Brunner, an American born Jewish architect designed the neo-classical building. Louis Comfort Tiffany created the glass windows and was responsible for the interior work and color design. Free guided tours are available once a month and last about 45 minutes. The docent will explain about the history of this Jewish Community and will be able to explain the ritual items included in the tour, some dating back to Colonial times. Rabbi Dr. Meir Y Soloveichik is the tenth minister since the founding of the Congregation and has been with them since 2012. They have many programs for both youth and adults and education continues to be highly valued.

I felt there’s a wealth in Jewish tradition, a great inheritance. I’d be a jerk not to take advantage of it. – Herman Wouk

In Jewish history there are no coincidences. – Elie Wiesel

What was lost in the European cataclysm was not only the Jewish past — the whole life of a civilization — but also a major share of the Jewish future…. It was not only the intellect of a people in its prime that was excised, but the treasure of a people in its potential. – Cynthia Ozick

If you elect me the first Jewish justice of the peace, I’ll reduce the speed limits to 54.95! – Kinky Friedman

Also on this day: Punch Without Judy – In 1992, the last issue of Punch magazine hits the newsstands.
Venus de Milo – In 1820, the famous statue was found on Melos.
 Winchester Cathedral – In 1093, the new Winchester Cathedral was dedicated.
Working Class – In 1935, the WPA was created.
Clint Eastwood’s Political Life – In 1986, Eastwood was elected mayor.

“Congregation Shearith Israel 001” by Gryffindor – Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons – http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Congregation_Shearith_Israel_001.JPG#/media/File:Congregation_Shearith_Israel_001.JPG

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