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April 8: The Oldest Congregation in America

lawrencebush
April 8, 2013

325px-Congregation_Shearith_Israel_001-1Shearith Israel, a.k.a. the Spanish and Portuguese Synagogue, established as the first Jewish congregation in America in 1655 by Jewish settlers in New Amsterdam, dedicated its first synagogue building on this date in 1730, on Mill Street in lower Manhattan. The congregation has occupied a series of five buildings, including its present quarters on West 70th Street, dedicated in 1897. Shearith Israel was the first home to the Jewish Theological Seminary, Conservative Judaism's rabbinical school, and then promoted the formation of the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America (OU) in 1896. Its rabbis included Gershom Mendes Seixas, who moved the congregation to Philadelphia during the American Revolutionary War, and several other historically prominent figures. Hayyim Angel, the current rabbi, is the son of Marc Angel, who is rabbi emeritus. Shearith Israel is today affiliated with the Orthodox Union.

"Shearith Israel records from the 18th century suggest how American Jewish women began, even during the colonial era, to redefine their religious identities. Although many European Jewish women of this era attended their community synagogues on Saturday mornings, it would have been rare for unmarried women to be in attendance. But in New York, unmarried young women (sometimes with the help of their fathers) were fighting for seats in the gallery." —Jewish Women's Archive