MIKVEH ISRAEL / PHILADELPHIA
Sephardic Orthodox following the Spanish-Portuguese Jewish ritual. The services conducted today are virtually the same as during the eighteenth century.
Prayer services are held every morning, as well as every Friday evening, Saturday morning, Saturday afternoon, Saturday evening, and all holidays and special occasions.
Mikveh Israel, "The Hope of Israel," was founded in 1740 and is an unparalleled American Jewish Institution. It has a two-fold tradition that is the synthesis of the Spanish-Portuguese Jewish ritual and the ongoing development of the American Jewish community.
Scattered records indicate that there were Jewish traders in the Delaware Valley before William Penn took possession of his colony in 1682. They lived in trading posts and wooden forts as protection from hostile Indians. In 1784, a German traveler listed the presence of Jewish families among the religious sects of early Philadelphia . Nathan Levy , observant Jew, established himself in the import/export trade with his cousin David Franks in the busy Philadelphia port by 1735.
In an atmosphere of tolerance, without hostility and repression, the Jews of colonial Philadelphia were free to meet openly with fellow Jews in group-worship. They met in the heart of a busy city, their meeting places surrounded by churches. They were able to fulfill their spiritual need to practice traditional religious rites.
During the War of Independence, Jews from New York , Richmond , Charleston , Savannah , Lancaster and Easton fled to Philadelphia seeking refuge from the British. In 1780, Rev. Gershom Mendes Seixas , Hazan (Minister) of Congregation Shearith Israel in New York , came to Philadelphia and became its religious leader. During his tenure, he established the form of prayer and organizational structure in the Spanish-Portuguese tradition which remain today. Because of increased membership as well as financial help from those who sought refuge in Philadelphia , the congregation established a permanent religious home. A lot was purchased on Cherry Alley. The first Jewish charitable organization in the city was established by Mikveh Israel.
Members of the congregation, including Rev. Seixas , returned to New York , Charleston and other locations when British occupation ceased. Left with debt incurred by synagogue construction loans, a subscription list was addressed to worthy fellow Citizens of every religious Denomination. Among the contributors were Benjamin Franklin ; David Rittenhouse , astronomer; Hilary Baker , city councilman (later mayor); Thomas McKean , a signer of the Declaration of Independence, Chief Justice and later Governor of Pennsylvania; William Bradford , Attorney-General of Pennsylvania; and Thomas Fitzsimmons , a drafter of the U.S. Constitution, first president of the Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce and the city's leading Catholic layman.
On December 13, 1790, Manuel Josephson , parnas/president of Mikveh Israel , personally presented a letter of homage and congratulations to President George Washington on behalf of the Hebrew Congregations in the Cities of Philadelphia, New York, Charleston and Richmond for his elevation to the chair of the Federal Government. Facsimiles of that letter and the reply of Washington can be seen in the display table below the tapestry.
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Source: synagogue website