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Then and Now: Keneseth Israel Synagogue

There have been Jewish people in Spokane at least since businessman Simon Berg set up a dry goods store in 1879. Recounted in a 2008 article by Jim Kershner in The Spokesman-Review, a group of mostly German Jews formed a Reform congregation and met in private homes until building Temple Emanu-El at West Third Avenue and South Madison Street in 1892. Historically, Jews of various sects kept apart, separated by the style of worship, languages spoken and ways each kept the dietary laws. As was common in that era, an Orthodox congregation also formed with newcomers, many from Eastern Europe and who spoke Yiddish. In 1909, they completed the Keneseth Israel Synagogue at West Fourth Avenue and South Adams Street. Not far up the hill, the Reform congregation built a new Temple Emanu-El in Roman classical style at West Eighth Avenue and South Walnut Street in 1928. Both congregations thrived, but when the interstate freeway route was laid out through Spokane in the late 1950s, Keneseth Israel was in the way. Chilly relationships from early in the 20th century had thawed and leaders from Emanu-El and Keneseth Israel agreed to merge. The sacred Torah scrolls of the Orthodox congregation were formally transferred to Temple Emanu-El on July 24, 1966. The merged congregation built its new home, Temple Beth Shalom, near East 30th Avenue and South Perry Street on the upper South Hill and moved there in 1969. Plymouth Congregational Church occupies the former Temple Emanu-El. The building was remodeled, adding Christian-themed stained glass windows and removing the Star of David. – Jesse Tinsley


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