Visiting Washington’s Oldest Synagogue

oldest synagogue(The Adas Israel synagogue at 3rd and G streets, NW)

For those that may have missed this, Washington’s oldest synagogue — the Adas Israel synagogue — will need to be moved to make way for the new development downtown that will deck over the 395 Center Leg Freeway that is adjacent to the building and separates it from the Georgetown Law School. The synagogue was originaly built at 6th and G in 1876 and was moved in 1969 to save it from demolition. The  Jewish Historical Society of Greater Washington (JHSGW) arranged to have the building hoisted on to dollies and relocated to its present location.

Synagogue interior showing the ark area.

Synagogue interior showing the ark area.

I was fortunate to have the JHSGW, and in particular curator Zachary Paul Levine, invite me to tour the synagogue prior to its move and was thrilled to accept the offer. One of the things I was most fascinated in learning was that they JHSGW has been undergoing a paint analysis for portions of the interior to learn what the original colors were for the interior. One of the things that they’ve learned is that the beveled corners of the posts holding up the balconies were originally gold leaf.

Related to this, I received the following as part of a larger announcement from the JHSGW that gives more insight into their work with paint analysis.

Was our ark once adorned with gold leaf?

We’re looking for 24-carat gold leaf beneath layers of paint in D.C.’s oldest synagogue building.

Can you help us raise $1,800 to complete this project? 

An 1876 newspaper account noted that a biblical quotation (Ma Tovu) was painted over the ark: “How lovely are your tents, O Jacob, your dwelling places, O Israel!”

We’ve painted this passage in gold-colored paint during our restoration work, but its original appearance is buried beneath more than a century of paint.

We recently completed a historic paint analysis of the sanctuary, funded in part by the National Trust for Historic Preservation and the Marpat Foundation. While this research yielded a picture of the sanctuary’s original appearance, further study is needed to solve this mystery.

This holiday season, give the gift of gold online or call 202-789-0900.

The synagogue is a wonderful building that I hope everyone has had an opportunity to experience in person.

The movie below relates the building’s history.

Explore posts in the same categories: Architecture, Historic Landmarks, Preservation

2 Comments on “Visiting Washington’s Oldest Synagogue”


  1. […] — a tribute for Evelyn Greenberg, who was instrumental in re-discovering and saving the historic 1876 Adas Israel synagogue from the wrecker’s ball in 1969. The building is destined to be moved again as a result of […]


  2. […] — a tribute for Evelyn Greenberg, who was instrumental in re-discovering and saving the historic 1876 Adas Israel synagogue from the wrecker’s ball in 1969. The building is destined to be moved again as a result of […]


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