Reform Congregation Keneseth Israel is the sixth oldest Reform Jewish synagogue in the United States. It is located at 8339 Old York Road in Elkins Park, Pennsylvania.
Keneseth Israel (“Congregation of Assembly of Israel”), founded in March 1847, was the fourth congregation to be established by the expanding Jewish community of Philadelphia. Orthodox in observance at first, KI adopted reform in 1855 and thus became the first progressive congregation in Philadelphia, and only the fifth in the entire country to take the way of radical experimentation. For almost forty years, KI was the only reform congregation in Philadelphia.
The term Keneseth Israel is frequently used in the midrash to represent the entire people of Israel as a religious entity. We still hold to the goals of our founders: to maintain a synagogue as a center of worship, religious education and communal gathering; to foster a “living Judaism” not only in the synagogue, but also in the homes and lives of its members and their families to adjust the teachings and practices of old to the needs of each new generation of American Jews. Rich in years and distinguished in history, we maintain our dedication to the creative survival of Judaism as an eternal “light to the nations.”
KI has been led by only eight senior rabbis through its long and distinguished history. Dr. David Einhorn, one of the greatest Jewish intellectuals of his day, a firebrand abolitionist and author of the prayer book which formed the original basis of the Union Prayer Book, was our Rabbi from 1861 to 1866. He was succeeded by Dr. Samuel Hirsch, the former Chief Rabbi of Luxembourg, who was both a scholar and a pioneer in Jewish social services in Philadelphia. Dr. Hirsch was followed by Dr. Joseph Krauskopf, a member of the first graduating class of the Hebrew Union College. Under Dr. Krauskopf, KI became the largest synagogue in the United States. Krauskopf founded the National Farm School (Delaware Valley College) in 1896 and attracted large crowds to his Sunday lectures.
In 1924, Dr. William H. Fineshriber was called to the pulpit of Keneseth Israel. He was the first American-born rabbi to serve the congregation and introduced both the Union Prayer Book and the Bar Mitzvah to KI. Dr. Fineshriber was succeeded in 1949 by Dr. Bertram W. Korn, who grew up in Keneseth Israel. Dr. Korn was the first rabbi in American History to have been promoted to “flag” rank as a Rear Admiral in the Navy. Rabbi Simeon J. Maslin, elected the sixth Senior Rabbi in 1980, served as the President of the Central Conference of American Rabbis from 1995-1997. Rabbi Bradley N. Bleefeld served the Congregation from June, 1997, until June, 2000.
Rabbi Lance J. Sussman became KI’s eighth Senior Rabbi in July, 2001. He earned his Ph.D. in American Jewish History at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion and has written several books and numerous articles. Rabbi Sussman is active in various scholarly organizations and serves as president of the Cheltenham Area Multifaith Council. He is also a Trustee of the University of Pennsylvania’s Center for Advanced Judaic Studies and teaches Jewish History at Gratz College.
Our congregation is affiliated with the Union for Reform Judaism (URJ).
Ref.: Rita Rosen Poley, Director/Curator – The Temple Judea Museum, Keneseth Israel
The Temple Judea Museum contains an impressive collection of artifacts that visitors of all religions will find of interest.
The Temple Judea Museum (TJM) is part of Reform Congregation Keneseth Israel (KI) in Elkins Park, PA. The museum was established in 1984 upon the merger of Temple Judea synagogue with KI and was formed from the existing, important Judaica collections of each synagogue. The museum is an active collecting and exhibiting institution and presents 3 – 5 original exhibitions each year. The collection and the museum’s exhibitions highlight a broad range of subjects connected to Jewish culture, history, religion and Israel. Contemporary art is represented primarily through the works of the members of the TJM Artists’ Collaborative.
The permanent collection of the Temple Judea Museum, located in Keneseth Israel Elkins Park, contains over 4,000 objects. Illustrated are religion and ceremonial Judaica through a broad range of media and discrete collections including: Archaeology, doll houses, ephemera, graphics, music, photography, rare books and documents, silver, textiles, two and three dimensional art, World War II and World War I. The first on-line postings represent the museum’s predominantly vernacular photography and World War II collections and selections from the museum’s home-centered Judaica collection. Selections from the museum’s extensive music collection will be posted next.
“The Prophetic Quest” artist Jacob Landau’s massive feat of ten stained glass windows (1974) is installed in the congregation’s Korn Memorial Sanctuary. The museum is the caretaker of the windows and guided tours are given.
Jacob M. Landau (December 17, 1917 – November 24, 2001) an American artist is best known for his evocative works on the human condition.
Although Landau was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, he relocated to Roosevelt, New Jersey—where he raised his family—because of an admiration for fellow American artist and Roosevelt resident, Ben Shahn. Landau admired the way Shahn used art as a means of communication. Landau explored breaking the barrier between fine and applied art to use art in this powerful way, to communicate the challenges of human nature.
Landau was articulate in many subjects. He embraced the ability to use art and technology together, and he studied science to experiment with new ways of producing art. He was a curious man who believed there was no area of the world that was not open to investigation.
After a distinguished career, Landau retired as a professor emeritus from Pratt Institute in Brooklyn. Many of his works are featured in permanent collections in the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and the Museum of Modern Art in New York, among others. His work has been exhibited throughout the world and has won him many awards and grants.
Landau died in 2001, leaving a legacy of provocative art filled with passion and a presence that draw the viewer into the very real issues of the twentieth century.
Ref.: Monmouth University, NJ
Jacob Landau and Keneseth Israel are indelibly linked by the series of 10 stained glass windows created by the artist. Titled, “THE PROPHETIC QUEST”.
Selecting the link below allows the reader to view the windows.
TJM also operates the ARTS ALIVE/WORDS ALIVE Gallery which brings our pre-school population into direct contact with practicing artists.
The museum is located at:
8339 Old York Road
Elkins Park, PA 19027
Monday – Thursday 9:00 am – 5:00 pm
Fridays: 9am – Before services
Sundays: 9:30 am – 2:00 pm
Or by appointment; Groups are welcome by appointment
Keneseth Israel is an accessible facility
Museum director/curator: Rita Rosen Poley
Museum chair: Karen Shain Schloss
Weekdays – 9:00 AM – 5:00 PM
Friday – 9:00 AM – 9:00 PM
Saturday – CLOSED
Sunday – 2:00 AM – 2:00 PM
The facility is handicap accessible and open to groups for tours by appointment. Group tours and other information is available by calling 215-887-2027 during the museum’s business hours.
The building also contains the stained glass artwork of Jacob M. Landau (December 17, 1917 – November 24, 2001) an American artist best known for his evocative works on the human condition.
“K.I.”, as the local residents fondly refer to Keneseth Israel is another of the treasures to be found on a visit to Cheltenham Township.
During the year, K.I. presents a full array of both entertainment and services to and for all of the residents of the community.