B'nai Abraham Synagogue

B'nai Abraham was the first Russian chevra (Hebrew for society or association) in the Jewish quarter of South Philadelphia. Founded by Lithuanian Jews in 1882, it relocated to this site at Lombard Street in 1885. This building is the oldest synagogue in continuous use in Philadelphia. During the height of Eastern European Jewish immigration to Philadelphia (1880-1920), B'nai Abraham served as a cornerstone of daily Jewish life, feeding the hungry and housing the homeless. B'nai Abraham was often the first stop for Jewish immigrants disembarking at Washington Avenue; they headed here to recite prayers of thanks and receive food and shelter.

The original building on this site was the church for a group of African American worshippers who had broken away from Mother Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church, located down the block. The Wesley Church, an AME Zion congregation, was completed and dedicated in 1820. By 1885, Wesley Church's congregation had outgrown the building and moved west of Broad Street, selling the building to Congregation B'nai Abraham.

Bernard Levinthal, a Lithuanian who was rabbi from 1891 to 1952, helped found New York's Yeshiva University and countless other Jewish organizations in Philadelphia, including Mt. Sinai Hospital and the Hebrew Free School. Though the congregation dates to the 19th century, the Byzantine structure that stands today was built exclusively by Jewish workmen in 1910. Of note are the rose windows with the "Mogen David" patterns, the Doric columns and yarzeit (indicating the anniversary of a death) boards made of Italian glass.

References

  • Boonin, Harry D. The Jewish Quarter of Philadelphia: A History and Guide, 1881-1930. Philadelphia, PA: Jewish Walking Tours of Philadelphia, Inc, 1999.
  • Friedman, Murray. Philadelphia Jewish Life, 1940-2000. Philadelphia, PA: Temple University Press, 2003.

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521-527 Lombard St.

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