On a beautiful sunny day, CEH members and friends enjoyed a walking tour of Jewish Washington, DC. The tour focused on the historic Seventh Street, NW, neighborhood during the years 1850 to 1950. We saw four former synagogue buildings, including two that were the home of Adas Israel and one that was the home of Washington Hebrew Congregation.
We started our tour at the new location of the Lillian & Albert Small Jewish Museum, which just moved for the third (and hopefully last) time. The synagogue, which opened its doors in 1876 as the first home of Adas Israel, is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the D.C. Inventory of Historic Sites, and the Historic American Buildings Survey. In 2021, it will open as the Capital Jewish Museum.
The historic 1876 Adas Israel synagogue may be the oldest synagogue structure in Washington, but Adas Israel is not the oldest congregation. Formed in 1852, Washington Hebrew Congregation was the city’s first Jewish congregation. In 1869, 38 members of the 17-year-old Washington Hebrew Congregation resigned in order to return to more traditional, orthodox Jewish rituals. That group formed Adas Israel congregation.
Our second tour stop was the Chinese Community Church at 500 I St., N.W. Founded in 1852 by U.S. Capitol architect Thomas Ustick Walter as a Presbyterian church, the building served as a Jewish temple and Baptist church before being purchased by the Chinese Community Church in 2006. The stained glass windows still have partial depictions of the Star of David.
Our third tour stop was 6th & I Synagogue, also a former home of Adas Israel. The 6th & I Synagogue was dedicated on January 8, 1908, near what was then the main commercial district in town and the center of the Jewish community in Washington. After going through several transformations (including one as an A.M.E. Church), the synagogue was purchased by a Jewish philanthropist, and rededicated as a space for Jewish and cultural life in 2004.
The tour’s final stop was the former home of Washington Hebrew Congregation at 816 8th St., N.W. (now the home of Greater New Hope Baptist Church). WHC worshipped at this location for 56 years before moving. In 1952, President Harry S. Truman laid the cornerstone of the congregation’s current home on Macomb Street NW, which was dedicated on May 6, 1955, by President Dwight D. Eisenhower.
Our thanks to the Jewish Historical Society of Greater Washington for an engaging and informative afternoon.