06 April 2008

Philadelphia's Jewish history, April 14

Jewish Philadelphia is the topic at the next meeting of the Jewish Genealogical Society of Greater Philadelphia when the group's founding president Harry Boonin will discuss his new book, "The Life and Times of Congregation Kesher Israel" (2008).

Boonin is also the author of "The Jewish Quarter of Philadelphia, A History and Guide, 1881-1930" (1999), and provides Jewish Philadelphia walking tours.
The meeting starts at 7.30pm Monday, April 14, at Reform Congregation Keneseth Israel in Elkins Park. For more information, click here.

The Jewish Exponent recently published a story on Boonin's new book

The date was Dec. 15, 1898. Congregation Kesher Israel at 412 Lombard St. was decked out in American and "Jewish colors," according to an article that appeared in the Jewish Exponent at the time.

Early American Zionist leaders Dr. Schepschel Schaffer and Rabbi Stephen S. Wise, who had both attended the Second Zionist Congress in Basel, Switzerland, just weeks earlier, had been invited by synagogue leaders to speak on the timely topic of creating a Jewish homeland.

Those gathered to hear their passionate speeches on the support needed from abroad for the Zionist movement were mostly Russian Jewish immigrants who had come to America to escape persecution and the pogroms their relatives were still facing in the world they'd left behind.

The immigrants listened intently to the ideas conveyed by the doctor and the rabbi. Besides coming to the United States in search of freedom, maybe there were other options, the two men suggested -- perhaps the time had come for Jewish people to have their own state.

This is just one anecdote that local author Harry D. Boonin sketches out in his second book, The Life and Times of Congregation Kesher Israel, which was published in February.

Boonin's first book on Philadelphia's Jewish Quarter described the city's immigrant neighborhood, its Yiddish newspapers, synagogues, friendship societies and other organizations and places. During the research and writing of the first book, he decided that Kesher Israel's story needed to be told.

It took another seven years.

Why did he focus on this congregation?

"Kesher Israel jumped out at me," said Boonin, 71, a Warrington resident. He explained that the central location of the synagogue placed the congregation at the forefront of Jewish life in the city and, for many years, it was the largest synagogue in the heart of the Jewish quarter, surrounded by Jewish homes, businesses and pushcart markets.

The congregation brought in well-known speakers during the 1890s and it played a big role in the community. It is one of only a handful of synagogues from that era still standing and, following renovations, still holds services in its historic building.

Read the complete article here.

Readers are reminded that - in 2009 - the JGSGP will co-host the 29th IAJGS International Conference on Jewish Genealogy, August 2-7, at the Sheraton Philadelphia City Center Hotel. Mark your calendars.

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