Southern & Jewish
Southern & Jewish celebrates the stories, people, and experiences – past and present – of Jewish life in the American South. Hosted by the Goldring/Woldenberg Institute of Southern Jewish Life, posts come from educators, students, rabbis, parents, artists, and many other “visitors-to and daily-livers-of” the Southern Jewish experience. From road trips to recipes to reflections, we’ll explore a little bit of everything – well, at least all things Southern and/or Jewish. Shalom, y’all!
Recently, I have started my research into the Jewish communities of Kentucky for our Encyclopedia of Southern Jewish Communities. A few weeks ago I was all over western Kentucky. In Owensboro, I found one of the oldest synagogues in the United States. Adath Israel, dedicated in 1877, is the 12th oldest synagogue in the country still in use today. In the South, only Kahal Kadosh Beth Elohim in Charleston, South Carolina (built in 1840), and Temple of Israel in Wilmington, North Carolina (built in 1876) are older.
I visited with two members of the congregation, Stuart Spindel and Sandy Bugay, who gave me a tour of the small, but lovely building. When the synagogue was dedicated in 1877, the local newspaper ran a large account of the ceremony, calling the building “an enduring monument to the Enterprise and Liberality of Our Israelitish Citizens.” Though a social hall was added on much later, the Moorish Revival building is still remarkably intact.
The congregation has always been tiny. One of the reasons Adath Israel is still in the synagogue is because they never outgrew it. Owensboro never had more than one hundred Jews during the 20th century. In recent years, the congregation has dwindled, but the remaining members are dedicated to maintaining it for as long as they can.
You can read much more about the history of Adath Israel and Owensboro Jewish community when the Kentucky section of the Encyclopedia is completed (early next year), but in the meantime I just wanted to share some of my photographs of this remarkable jewel of a synagogue: