Adath Jeshurun means “Congregation of the Upright.” Yeshurun is the name of affection that God has for Israel, and it appears in the Torah, Deuteronomy 33:26.
Congregation Adath Jeshurun’s earliest history dates back to 1851 when it was known as Beth Israel, the Polish House of Israel (later known as “the Polish synagogue.”) Chartered in 1856, the synagogue’s first building between First and Second Streets on what is now Liberty Street opened in 1857. In 1894 the name was changed to Adas Jeshurun, and the congregation moved to a small brick building at Floyd and Chestnut, the site of today’s Children’s Hospital.
Early in the 20th century, religious practices changed from traditional to Conservative. Mixed seating of men and women, a hallmark of the newly developing Conservative movement, became part of Adath Jeshurun in the 1920s. As the Conservative movement grew in America, the synagogue was a pioneer in adjusting to the American environment while remaining loyal to Jewish tradition. For years membership remained small and devoted.
In 1917, the congregation hired Rabbi Jacob J. Gittleman and experienced explosive growth in membership – from 50 families when he arrived to some 600 when he passed away more than 50 years later. A larger building, the domed structure that still stands at Brook and College Streets, was dedicated in 1919 and was the synagogue’s home until 1955. The Men’s Club was founded in 1922, and a school was built in 1923. Scout Troop 111 was initiated in the 1930s and later merged with Troop 30.
After World War II, the synagogue rented Memorial Auditorium at Fourth and Kentucky Streets to accommodate the membership for High Holy Day services – a practice that continued until the combination of growth and changing geography led the congregation to seek a space for a new facility in the Highlands, then the area of highest Jewish concentration. The result was the purchase of the 4.5 acre Beard estate on Woodbourne Avenue in 1950. The congregation’s Religious School was opened in the remodeled Beard mansion in the fall of 1951 with its largest enrollment ever. The synagogue building itself was dedicated in September 1957. The J.J Gittleman Educational Center was added in February 1966 to hold classrooms and a new preschool for younger children.
Rabbi Gittleman was named Rabbi Emeritus in 1965, and the congregation welcomed Dr. Simcha Kling as its spiritual leader. It was Rabbi Kling, an ardent Zionist, who initiated the use of Israeli Hebrew in the service and encouraged young people to participate in leading the service. During this time, the congregation was served by its much beloved cantor Morris Pernick, who moved to Israel with wife Sarah in 1970 after 30 years of service to the congregation.
Cantor Marshall Portnoy joined the congregation that same year. While women had been counted as part of the minyan, and bat mitzvah had been an option for girls since 1958, Portnoy incorporated egalitarian bar and bat mitzvah into the Shabbat morning service. In 1972 he launched the annual Festival of Music, still a highlight of the congregation’s celebration of Jewish Music Month.
Robert B. Slosberg became the rabbi at Adath Jeshurun in 1981, and Cantor David A. Lipp joined the Congregation in 1994. You can read more about them on our “Clergy” page or by clicking this link.