3.3 Washington, D.C.
Former Adas Israel, 619 6th Street NW, SE corner of 6th and G streets; moved to 3rd and G streets, NW, in 1969 to avoid demolition; moved again to 3rd and F streets, NW, in 2019
Architect unknown; Max Kleinman, draftsman; J. William and Co., contractor, 1876
Publisher and publication date unknown
Postcard gift of Julian H. Preisler, Falling Waters, West Virginia
This modern postcard illustrates the importance of the first home of Adas Israel (Congregation Israel) for two periods of synagogue history: first, when it was erected as the first purpose-built synagogue in Washington, D.C., and second, almost a century later, after it had ceased to be used for Jewish worship. In 1969, the building was saved from demolition and physically moved to a new location where it subsequently opened as a historic site and headquarters of the Jewish Historical Society of Greater Washington.
The dedication of the synagogue on June 9, 1876, with President Ulysses S. Grant in attendance, was a turning point in American Jewish history. Judaism was not merely allowed and tolerated as an American religion; it was officially celebrated. The saving of the synagogue was a milestone in the nascent movement to rediscover the American Jewish past, and to protect and preserve historic Jewish sites.
Adas Israel was originally organized as a protest against the Reform tendencies of the older Washington Hebrew Congregation. Despite a limited budget, members of the newly formed Adas Israel audaciously decided to build a synagogue from the ground up. In 1873, congregants moved into their new two–story brick synagogue. The presence of President Grant and his cabinet at the dedication three years later signaled a public repudiation of the Civil War–era anti-Jewish actions (the infamous Order #11) of then–General Grant.
Though the architecture of Adas Israel is not copied from any other synagogue, it represents an emphatic rejection of the Moorish style then popular for Reform synagogues. The building’s unknown architect employed a simplified version of the Romanesque Revival style, which was favored for other public buildings in postwar Washington.
In 1908, Adas Israel relocated to a larger sanctuary, and the 1876 synagogue was reconfigured for commercial use. Then, in 1966, when the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (Metro) announced the demolition of the building, the new Jewish Historical Society of Greater Washington (JHSGW) intervened. With help from the District of Columbia, the Department of Housing and Urban Development, and an Act of Congress, the JHSGW moved the building by flatbed truck to the “safe” corner of 3rd and G streets, NW. In 2019, however, the historical society—renamed the Lillian and Albert Small Capitol Jewish Museum—moved the synagogue again, this time to 3rd and F streets. As of 2021, the former Adas Israel was slated to take center stage in a new museum under construction as part of the massive Capitol Crossing Project.
For more images see: https://capitaljewishmuseum.org/historic-synagogue/