History of B’nai Israel Synagogue

B’nai Israel Synagogue was built in 1876 by Congregation Chizuk Amuno. Chizuk Amuno was founded in 1871 by former members of the Baltimore Hebrew Congregation who had left the Lloyd Street Synagogue in response to more liberal practices that were changing the style of worship.

Color photo of B'nai Israel Synagogue, c. 1980s. JMM 1987.173.67

The synagogue is an exquisite example of Moorish Revival architecture as seen in the rounded arches and decorative brickwork on the façade.

Like many members of the Baltimore Hebrew Congregation, members of Chizuk Amuno began to move to the more prosperous area of Eutaw place near the end of the 1800s. They would eventually build a new synagogue closer to their community. In 1895, Chizuk Amuno sold the downtown building to B’nai Israel, a congregation of Russian immigrants founded in 1873. The synagogue became informally known as the Russische Shul.

Over a period of years, B’nai Israel’s congregation saw the same decline that the entire Jonestown community was experiencing. The building fell into a period of disrepair. During this time, the congregation continued to worship in the Beit Midrash downstairs.

The synagogue was restored between 1983 and 1986 as part of the Jewish Historical Society of Maryland’s transformation into the Jewish Museum of Maryland. At the rededication on December 20, 1987 a congregant stood before the crowd and said “We pay tribute today to a group of dreamers- no more than a handful of people. They have a dream that what once was can yet be again. They look not only to the shul’s past with pride but look to this shul’s future with hope.”

B’nai Israel has been worshipping in the building for over 100 years. This congregation has played an important part of the story of this neighborhood and Baltimore Jewish life.

Visit the Congregation’s website here.

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