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Congregration Mickve Israel

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Basic Information

Location 32° 4′ 14.66″ N, 81° 5′ 39.22″ W
Phone number (912) 233-1547
Country United States
City Savannah, GA
Address 20 East Gordon Street, Savannah, GA

General Information

Open to visitors yes
Need appointment no
Handicap accessibility yes
Website http://mickveisrael.org/
Geographical Coordinates 32.07085,-81.09432


Summary

Congregation Mickve Israel in Savannah, Georgia, is one of the oldest synagogues in the United States. The synagogue, located on Monterey Square in historic Savannah, was consecrated in 1878, and is a rare example of a Gothic-style synagogue. The synagogue building was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1980.


History and time period

The congregation was established in July 1735 as Kahal Kadosh Mickva Israel (the Holy Congregation, the Hope of Israel) shortly thereafter renting a building for use as a synagogue. The congregation was founded by many from a group of 42 Jews who had sailed from London aboard the William and Sarah and had come to Savannah on July 11, 1733, months after the colony's founding by James Oglethorpe. All but eight of the group were Spanish and Portuguese Jews, who had fled to England a decade earlier to escape the Spanish Inquisition, many of whom were members of the Bevis Marks Synagogue. Wealthy members of London's Jewish community of 6,000 had provided financial assistance to subsidize the initial group and a second boat that brought additional Jews to Savannah. The founders of the congregation brought with them a Sefer Torah that is still used on special occasions at the synagogue.

On July 5, 1742, during the The War of Jenkins' Ear between Spain and the Kingdom of Great Britain, Spanish troops landed on St. Simons Island as part of their Invasion of Georgia. Most of the Sephardi Jews abandoned Savannah, fearing that if captured they would be treated as apostates and burnt at the stake. The Minis and Sheftall families of Ashkenazi Jews were the only ones to remain behind. The rented synagogue building was relinquished and services would be held informally at the home of Benjamin Sheftall. Enough Jews had returned to Savannah by 1774 to justify re-establishing the congregation on a formal basis.

Formal prayer services were not held during the American Revolutionary War, along with most formal religious services in all of Savannah. On July 7, 1786, "K. K. Mickvah Israel" was reorganized and a space was rented for use as a synagogue, attracting as many as 70 worshipers. Governor of Georgia Edward Telfair authorized a charter for the "Parnas and Adjuntas of Mickve Israel at Savannah" on November 20, 1790, under which the congregation still operates. By 1793, the congregation was having difficulty paying its rent and gave up its leased space thereafter. Even though services were hold in the homes of members, the congregation maintained its formal structure, including the election of officers.


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