A Brief History Of Congregation Adath Jeshurun


Jacob Newman


Congregation Adath Jeshurun is the oldest operating synagogue in Elizabeth, New Jersey, and one of the oldest operating synagogues in the state of New Jersey. Known colloquially as “The Murray Street Shul,” this remarkably tenacious institution has been serving the religious needs of Elizabeth’s Jewish community for 83 years, and we hope, shall continue to do so for many years to come. But where did this congregation come from?

Adath Jeshurun was incorporated on September 26, 1921 under the 1898 Act To Incorporate Associations Not For Pecuniary Profit of the State of New Jersey. In the first few years of its existence, the congregation worshiped in the Elizabeth YM-YWHA’s building, renting a larger hall for the high holidays.[1] Permanent quarters for the congregation were obtained in 1927, when the synagogue’s first president, Henry P. Nelson, deeded a house and land at 200 Murray Street, on the corner of Chilton Street, to the congregation for the sum of one dollar. That same house has remained the Synagogue’s home ever since.

The congregation’s early records were kept in Yiddish until 1939. After 1939, the language of choice was English. Throughout its history, Adath Jeshurun has been involved in many charitable causes. Very early in its existence, in the early 1930’s, the Congregation procured plots in Mount Lebanon Cemetery, and formed a Cemetery Association to administer it. This, too, continues to this day. The congregation operated a Talmud Torah up until the 1940’s, when the foundation of the Jewish Educational Center School in the Elmora neighborhood made Adath Jeshurun’s Talmud Torah redundant.

Among the many charitable causes supported by the Congregation through its history are the United Jewish Appeal, the Jewish War Veterans, the Anti-Nazi League, the Jewish Educational Center of Elizabeth, Ezras Torah, the Red Magen Dovid, Kolanu Yachad, and many, many others. A most interesting charitable cause was supported in 1943. In conjunction with the Jewish War Veterans and other Jewish organizations, the Congregation contributed several thousand dollars towards the purchase of six bombers for the war effort! In 1952, the Congregation raised more than 11,000 dollars for the young state of Israel through an Israel Bonds drive. The Congregation continues to support many Jewish causes, donating many thousands of dollars to many different organizations throughout the world.

In the early 1940’s, the Congregation began to feel confined by its Murray Street habitat, and sought to build a new, larger synagogue. To this end, a piece of property on Vine Street was purchased for 3,500 dollars. With this enthusiasm for new construction, there were several merger attempts made in the 1940’s. In 1943, Rabbi Pinchas Teitz asked Adath Jeshurun to merge with the Talmud Torah he had founded, to provide a synagogue to go with his planned school. This offer was turned down by the Board of Adath Jeshurun, which responded with a counter offer for the Rabbi Teitz Talmud Torah to merge with the Congregation! Later on in 1944, a merger with Bais Yitzchok Synagogue was proposed and passed by both organizations, but because of war-related shortages of building materials, construction of the new building for the two synagogues was postponed, and the merger fell apart. After the war, the Congregation’s finances collapsed, and the Congregation was forced to sell its property on Vine Street in 1953. However, the Congregation got $9,000 for the property, making a tidy profit!

With the financial house back in order, it was proposed that the old house on Murray Street be torn down and a new building constructed there. This was deemed too expensive, and an expansion and remodeling of the old Synagogue was undertaken and completed by the end of the 1950’s.

During the 1960’s, the congregation began to experience trouble having a Minyan for weekday services. To rectify this problem, a merger with Holche Yosher and Mishkan Israel, two other synagogues in town, was proposed in 1964 and passed in 1965 by all three organizations after lengthy debate. In the summer of 1965, it was concluded that the combined organization, to be known as Kinesset Yisrael, would sell the property of Holche Yosher and Mishkan Israel, pool their cash resources and build a large synagogue. Plans were prepared for a synagogue that would seat 465 people. However, for reasons that are unclear, the merger disintegrated rapidly in the early part of 1966, and nothing came of it in the long run. After this failed merger, the wind seemed to go out of the sails of the Congregation. Membership declined through the 1970’s and 1980’s, while the records indicate that the congregation just drifted on with little direction.

Much information about the Congregation’s activities in the late 1950’s and early 1960’s was lost in a disastrous fire in the home of the synagogue’s long-time secretary, George Horwitz, in 1984. There are no minutes from any meetings after 1983, until a meeting in 1990, when a desultory effort was made to reorganize. Upon the death of the Congregation’s president, Philip Gold, in 1993, another reorganization attempt was made, resulting in an election in 1995. Things remained ill defined until August of 2004, when a new constitution was enacted for the Congregation, and a full reorganization was undertaken. This new constitution is quite possibly the first ever prepared for the Congregation, as there are many references in the minutes to people looking for copies of a constitution, or to attempt the preparation of a constitution, and no mention of any success.

For eighty-three years, the congregation has remained independent and for seventy-six years has resided in its present home. Through these many decades and the challenges of the ages, the Congregation has persevered. With the completion of the Congregation’s reorganization, the oldest living synagogue in Elizabeth stands ready to face the challenges of a new era.


Presidents of Congregation Adath Jeshurun

Henry P. Nelson


I. Kosberg


P. Windsberg


I. Kosberg (second term)


Morris Merlis


I. Kosberg (third term)


L. Friedman


Philip Gold


Joseph Prawer


Shmuel E. Burnstein



[1] Gale, Joseph, Ed. Eastern Union: The Development of a Jewish Community. (Elizabeth, NJ: The Jewish Culture Council of Eastern Union County, New Jersey, 1958) 44.