Like Knesseth Israel in Ellington and Agudas Achim in Hebron, Anshei Israel, at 142 Newent Road in Lisbon, is an example of one of Connecticut’s rural synagogues. A Colonial Revival building, it was built in 1936 on land given by Harry Rothenberg, a member of the congregation. The synagogue’s fifteen founding families were Jewish immigrants from Poland and Russia who lived in Lisbon and other nearby towns. More immigrants from eastern Europe joined the congregation in the wake of World War II. The building is now maintained by the Lisbon Historical Society.
Several religious congregations have used the building at 540 East Washington Street in Bridgeport over the years. It was built in 1866-1867 as the Bethesda Mission Chapel and Sunday School. It was later home to the East Washington Avenue Baptist Church (formed in 1874) and then to Congregation Adath Israel, the first Orthodox synagogue in Bridgeport. The edifice’s current cornice dates to 1902. Today the building is owned by the Apostolic Worship Center. The AWC purchased it in 1997 and completed renovating the sanctuary in 2002.
Congregation Adath Israel was organized in 1902. A two-story building in Portland was purchased in 1908 and converted into a synagogue. The current synagogue, at 48 Church Street in Middletown, was built in 1929. In the 1940s, the congregation changed from its original Orthodoxy when the Charter was changed to Conservative.
Knesseth Israel Synagogue was built in Ellington in 1913 by Congregation Knesseth Israel [“The Gathering of Israel”], an Orthodox congregation of Jewish farm families. The shul was designed in the Colonial Revival style by Leon Dobkin and was built partly with funds from the Jewish Colonization Association. Founded by Baron Maurice de Hirsch, a wealthy German-Jewish philanthropist, the JCA encouraged Orthodox Eastern European Jews to become farmers. Knesseth Israel Synagogue was moved in 1954 from its original location, at the corner of Abbott and Middle roads, to its current address at 226 Pinney Street.
The Mather Homestead is a former Greek Revival farmhouse in Hartford’s North End, built sometime between 1835 and 1843. Changes to the house over the years illustrate the many demographic changes that have occurred in the surrounding neighborhood. The house was constructed by William Mather, a prosperous Yankee farmer, and continued as a residence until 1926. The house faces Mahl Avenue (the address is 2 Mahl Avenue), but originally had a Main Street address, because Mahl Avenue was not opened until 1893. At that time, developer Frederick Mahl bought the Mather farm and subdivided it. Starting in 1887, the Mather house was rented by Charles Skinner, an insurance clerk, who bought the house in 1898. In 1916, the Skinner family sold the house to a Jewish family.
Significant structural changes began for the Mather Homestead in 1926, when it was converted for use as a synagogue. The alterations were undertaken by two Orthodox congregations, Teferes Israel and Chevre Kadishe, which had merged in 1926. Both congregations had been founded by Russian immigrants: members of Teferes Israel came from Ludmir (now in Ukraine) and members of Chevre Kadishe from Wolkowysk (now in Belarus). Among other changes, a rounded projection on the east (Main Street) side of the building was added for an ark to hold Torah scrolls. The Mahl Street side of the building originally had a Greek Revival columned porch on the first floor and a second porch was added above it on the second floor in 1926. Known as the Mahl Avenue Shul, Teferes Israel later moved to Bloomfield and, in 1993, merged with Beth David in West Hartford.
In 1954, the building was acquired by an African American Masonic Temple, Excelsior Lodge No. 16. Founded in 1856 by a group of Prince Hall Masons, Excelsior Lodge has included among its members many leaders of Hartford’s black community. For many decades, the exterior was left unaltered, but the columned porches have since been removed and replaced by an enclosed entry addition on the fist-floor.
Formed in 1919, Emanuel Synagogue in Hartford was Connecticut’s first Conservative congregation. In 1920, members dedicated its first synagogue in the former North Methodist Church on Main Street. With a growing membership, the congregation purchased farmland on Woodland Street in Hartford’s Upper Albany neighborhood. A new synagogue, designed by Ebbets and Frid, was completed in 1927. Emanuel Synagogue’s cemetery is located on Jordan Lane in Wethersfield. By the 1950s, with many Emanuel members having moved to West Hartford, the synagogue purchased land on Mohegan Drive and built a social hall and religious school there in 1959. Services continued to be held at Woodland Street until 1968. A new Emanuel Synagogue was completed on Mohegan Drive in 1970. The former Hartford synagogue is now Faith Seventh Day Adventist Church.
This past winter, Connecticut Explored magazine featured an article about the state’s rural synagogues. One of these is Agudas Achim (United Brethren) Synagogue, at 10 Church Street in Hebron, a brick Art Deco building. The congregation had been meeting in private homes for many years, but began planning to build a synagogue in the late 1930s. A leading member of Hebron’s Jewish community, Ira Charles Turshen, offered to design and build the new synagogue. In 1924, Turshen, who was born in the province of Minsk in Russia, had bought a grain business and store in Amston, a village in Hebron. When his grain mill burned down in 1927, he rebuilt it himself using brick. The new building featured his signature trademark, a circular window. In building Agudas Achim, Turshen wanted to construct a building which would last for generations. He was willing to make up the difference for cost overruns and used recycled bricks on the synagogue’s rear and side walls. Turshen made the Star of David stained glass window on the front facade himself. The synagogue was completed in 1940 and officially dedicated in the following year.