About Congregation Kesher Israel
Congregation Kesher Israel is located at 412 Lombard Street, in the Society Hill section of center city Philadelphia. The original building was constructed in the late 1700’s and housed the first Universalist Church in the United States. In the late 1880’s Congregation Kesher Israel was formed as the result of the merger of three congregations. Since its inception Kesher has been located at the Lombard Street location. It is the oldest synagogue in Philadelphia that has been in the same location since its inception and is probably the second oldest congregation in the Delaware Valley.
Kesher Israel was the centerpiece of Zionism in Philadelphia in the early 1900’s. Clearly this was one of the highpoints of the congregation’s history. In the early 1900’s the great migration of Eastern European Jews settled in the immediate vicinity of Kesher Israel. Within a ten block section of Philadelphia there were dozens of synagogues in the early 1900’s. Today, there are only three. After World War II a large exodus of Jewish families occurred in this section of Philadelphia. Almost all of the shuls closed, the Jewish commercial district immediately adjacent to Kesher Israel was abandoned, and the neighborhood can best be described as poor and desolate. The congregation was keeping the doors open by the shear will of an extremely small group of families. Interestingly the daily minyan continued without interruption.
Commencing in the mid 1970’s the slow rebirth of center city Philadelphia started. Over the course of the next thirty years the congregation slowly rebuilt itself and the two hundred year old building was slowly repaired and restored. Today, center city Philadelphia is a vibrant downtown and Kesher Israel enjoys the fruits of this resurgence.
Kesher Israel can best be described as having several distinct parts. First, it has a small but active daily morning minyan. Second, it has a thriving Shabbat service. Third, we have an active Hebrew school, and lastly we have a large pre-school.
The current membership of the synagogue is approximately two hundred families. We expect to have approximately fifteen bnai mitzvah in the next two years. There are approximately twenty five children enrolled in the Hebrew school and the pre-school has an enrollment of ninety-five two to five year olds.
While the congregation was originally chartered as an orthodox synagogue, today it can best be described as an egalitarian shul with many traditional elements. The Shabbat prayer book is, “Siddur sim Shalom” and the weekday prayer book is Ha-Siddur Ha-Shalom.