History or comments
The oldest synagogue building in the USA continuously used by the same congregation.
The completion of the Delaware & Hudson Canal was responsible for the growth of Honesdale in the early 1800s. The Beth Israel congregation was founded by ten German immigrant families fleeing the severe economic depression in Europe. Like many small town Jewish congregations, Beth Israel initially held its services in members’ homes. In a Letter to the Editor that appeared in the May 18th edition of the New York Times John V. Waller wrote that the first service was held in October of 1849 in the home of his great-grandfather, Fiest Waller. They used a Torah that was borrowed from New York City.
The Delaware & Hudson Canal Company donated the land on which the temple was built. In 1855 the D & H Company built the temple for the congregation. Mr. Waller’s letter noted that the design and construction of the temple appears to have been undertaken without much consultation with the Jewish Community as there are kneeling benches associated with each pew. Although never used, the benches are still in good condition and remain unto this day.
The simple yet elegant temple backs up to the Lackawaxen River. In 1942 a flood devastated the interior of the temple. Anchored to bedrock, the sturdy little shul was not structurally damaged although the gothic arched windows were swept away. Major architectural change came to the temple in 1962 when a social hall was added to the original structure.
Beth Israel is sometimes referred to as the smallest synagogue in the United States. While it was the smallest at the time of its construction, that is no longer the case. The Colonial meeting house style temple does have the distinction of being the oldest synagogue building in use in Pennsylvania and one of only a handful of surviving North American synagogues constructed of wood. As of 2014, it was the second oldest synagogue building in the United States still occupied by its original congregation. It’s second to the Touro Synagogue of Newport, Rhode Island. Unlike Beth Israel, that synagogue was not in continuous operation since its construction.