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Adas Israel Congregation, Washington

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Adas Israel Congregation, Washington


Basic Information

Location 2850 Quebec St NW, Washington, DC 20008, United States
Phone number +1 202-364-0717
Country United States
City Washington

General Information

Open to visitors yes
Need appointment no
Handicap accessibility no
Website adasisrael.org/‎
Geographical Coordinates 38.93718,-77.05794


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

Founded 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.

For the Jewish community, Adas Israel was a center of traditional worship. Its constitution affirmed the Orthodox religious practices to which members were committed and forbade religious reforms from ever being made. Prayers were read in Hebrew, with the exception of the prayer for the government, which could be recited in English after being read in Hebrew. A minyan (prayer service attended by at least ten men) took place daily. As time went on, however, services began to change from the original forms. For example, English was introduced into the services, at first to translate prayers. In the late 1920's, Adas Israel affiliated with the Conservative movement, and has remained a Conservative congregation since. Initially, Adas Israel followed Orthodox tradition with separate seating for men and women, but discontinued the practice in 1951. Today, Adas Israel “aspires to perpetuate Judaism, to enrich the lives of our members to celebrate Conservative Judaism at its creative best, and to bring Jews closer to God.” Adas Israel is a congregation focused on social consciousness and Jewish activism, sponsoring many community service projects. The congregation also provides many different means of being involved with Judaism. On Shabbat, as many as seven different services are held. These include traditional services, havurah, an egalitarian minyan, potlucks for young professionals, and the Ruach Minyan.

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. Local newspapers frequently reported on synagogue services and other communal events. Bar mitzvahs, weddings, the High Holidays, Purim plays, and Passover celebrations all occasioned public notice. 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.

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