Kneseth Israel congregation celebrating its 90th anniversary Synagogue's history began in Annapolis homes

November 10, 1996|By Dan Thanh Dang | Dan Thanh Dang,SUN STAFF

The oldest and one of the largest Jewish congregations in Southern Maryland had its beginnings in the living rooms of a handful of families in Annapolis searching for a place to worship.

Today, hundreds of spiritual descendants of those first families are to gather at Kneseth Israel, the synagogue at Spa Road and Hilltop Lane with a large sanctuary, auditorium, school wing, two kitchens and professional offices, to celebrate the 90th anniversary of the congregation that has served as their extended family.

"It's a privilege to be a link in the chain," said Donald Aronson, 61, an Annapolis resident and Kneseth Israel board member who organized the celebration.

"Our lives have been interwoven with the synagogue. We are here to reminisce about our past and look forward to our future," he said.

There have been Jews in Annapolis since colonial times, working as merchants, tailors and shoemakers, but never enough to start a synagogue until Jewish immigrants from Eastern Europe arrived in the 1890.

By 1896, a quorum of 10 men necessary for traditional Jewish worship began worshiping together as the Annapolis Hebrew Association. Services were held at a member's home on Bladen Street near the State House.

The community remained relatively small until another wave of immigrants moved into the area in 1906 and the association applied for a charter, elected officers and adopted the name Kneseth Yishroal, or Assembly of Israel. The name was later modernized as Kneseth Israel.

The congregation moved to many locations until finally settling on the property on Spa Road.

Over the years, the congregation has offered assistance to poor families, provided informal counseling and shadchonim (matchmakers) for eligible young men and women, members said. At one time, Kneseth Israel also served as a house of worship for Naval Academy midshipmen required to attend services.

Julia Feldman has watched four generations of her family pass through the doors of Kneseth Israel since she moved to Annapolis with her family at the age of 12 in 1928. Although the city has changed, Feldman said, Kneseth Israel has held on to its traditions.

Because it is an orthodox congregation, men and women are seated separately during services, and, although some English is used, Hebrew remains the predominant language for services.

"I have seen many changes since I've been here," said Feldman, 80. "The town has grown, and now there are three synagogues as compared to only one. But Kneseth has never changed. That's what I love about our congregation.

"I have literally grown up with Kneseth," Feldman said. "It has been such a big part of our lives."

Kneseth Israel has been "a very positive force in our lives," Aronson said. "And we're just glad to be around to celebrate this happy occasion."

Pub Date: 11/10/96

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