Welcome to World Jewish Heritage
Rediscover your heritage like never before
Adas Israel Congregation
Adas Israel Congregation
|Location 2850 Quebec St NW, Washington, DC, United States|
|Phone number 202.362.4433|
|Country United States|
|Address 2850 Quebec Street NW, Washington, DC|
|Open to visitors yes|
|Need appointment no|
|Handicap accessibility no|
|Geographical Coordinates 38.93695,-77.05751|
Adas Israel, located in the Cleveland Park neighborhood, is the largest Conservative synagogue in Washington, D.C. President Ulysses S. Grant attended the dedication of its first building in 1876, the first time a sitting United States President had attended a synagogue service. The original structure is the oldest surviving synagogue building in Washington, D.C., and today the Lillian & Albert Small Jewish Museum.
History and time period
In 1869, about 30 Jewish immigrant families resigned from Washington Hebrew Congregation, the only Jewish congregation then in Washington, D.C., to form a more traditional, or Orthodox, alternative: Adas Israel (Congregation of Israel). These men and women sought a worship service more akin to the one they remembered from Europe, objecting to that congregation's move toward Reform Judaism. For several years, they met in rented rooms and struggled to raise funds to build their own synagogue.
Adas Israel has played an important role in the nation’s capital from its founding. President Ulysses S. Grant and the President Pro Tempore of the Senate (and acting Vice President), Thomas White Ferry, attended the three-hour Orthodox dedication service on June 9, 1876. This was the first time a sitting U.S. president had attended a synagogue service.
When President William McKinley was shot and killed by an assassin in Buffalo in 1901, the congregation convened a special service in his memory.
In 1963 Adas Israel was the first synagogue to be addressed by civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
President Lyndon Johnson attended a Thanksgiving Day service following the assassination of his predecessor, John F. Kennedy, in 1963. This interfaith service included a sermon by Rabbi Stanley Rabinowitz. That night, Johnson paraphrased Rabinowitz’s words in a nationally-televised address, speaking of how blessings can come from evil situations.
Following Yitzhak Rabin’s assassination in 1995, Vice President Al Gore and members of the Cabinet and Supreme Court attended a memorial service at Adas Israel.
Other notable speakers at Adas Israel have included Presidents Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford, Vice President Hubert Humphrey, Israeli Prime Ministers Golda Meir and Yitzhak Rabin, and Senator Robert F. Kennedy.
After years of planning and fundraising, the congregation completed and dedicated its first synagogue building just in time for the nation’s Centennial celebration—providing a strong and symbolic presence for Jewish immigrants on that historic occasion. The synagogue stood at the corner of 6th and G Streets, NW, in the heart of the city’s residential and commercial center, where many of the congregants lived and worked.
An influx of immigrants from Eastern Europe and Russia swelled the congregation’s numbers. The congregation continued to worship in the original synagogue until 1908, when a new building at Sixth and I Streets, NW, was dedicated. The original building was sold to Stephen Gatti, an Italian fruit dealer and real estate investor who lived a block away. In the 1910s, Saint Sophia’s Greek Orthodox Church worshiped in the second-floor sanctuary. A succession of churches followed in the 1920s to 1940s.
During the course of the next 60 years, the former synagogue’s first floor was divided into retail spaces and housed a bicycle shop, barber, Joseph Funger’s grocery store, Anthony Litteri’s delicatessen, and other businesses.
In the 1960s, plans for the construction of Metro headquarters threatened the building with demolition. With the support of federal and city agencies, the Jewish Historical Society of Greater Washington saved the building and moved it three city blocks to its current location at Third and G Streets, NW. On September 1, 1969, President Richard Nixon signed a law authorizing the District to purchase the building and lease it to the Society for historic preservation purposes—at $1 a year for 99 years.
The historic synagogue building has been restored by the Jewish Historical Society of Greater Washington and is now home to the Lillian & Albert Small Jewish Museum. Washington’s oldest surviving synagogue building, it’s listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the D.C. Inventory of Historic Sites, and the Historic American Buildings Survey. It is among the oldest synagogue buildings still standing in the United States. It is also an official project of the Save America’s Treasures program.
Today the Jewish Historical Society of Greater Washington hosts building tours, walking tours, lectures, student field trips, weddings, and bar and bat mitzvahs in the historic sanctuary.