The Last Synagogues Of Strawberry Mansion

January 7, 2015 | by Michael Buozis


A few years ago, while driving down Ridge Avenue into Strawberry Mansion on my way home to the Northwest section of the city, I noticed a fading blue Star of David and a big sign reading “Kosher Delicatessen” on the white bricks of an old building. These seemed anachronistic and out of place–signposts of a community that I didn’t associate with North Philadelphia. I wasn’t intimate with the history of the area yet, beyond being well aware of John Coltrane’s formative years spent in a house on the edge of Fairmount Park. Years later, I returned to scour Ridge Avenue for those same signs that had caught my attention, but came up empty-handed. So, I began to dig and what I uncovered were the last vestiges of an historic Jewish community long forgotten.

In Philadelphia’s Strawberry Mansion neighborhood, demographic shifts took place about half a century ago. In Rabbi Fred Kazan’s introduction to Strawberry Mansion: The Jewish Community of North Philadelphia, by Allen Meyers, Rabbi Kazan says of the shift, “Today, Jewish Strawberry Mansion only exists in our hearts, thoughts, and memories experienced and shared by thousands of people less than 50 years ago. The Jews built a community, and when they left for such places as the Oxford Circle, Overbrook Park, and West Oak Lane-Mt. Airy, they left behind their houses of worship. These buildings have withstood the test of time; they now serve Strawberry Mansion’s black community as living monuments and churches.” In my own search I found most of the surviving synagogues being reused by Christian congregations.

Many of these were “row house synagogues,” Kazan tells me on the phone. “You knock down some walls in a house and turn it into a synagogue. But many of these places were not permanent. They lasted only a generation and a half.”

In Meyers’ notes for his book–held in Temple University’s Urban Archives–I found evidence for at least 21 former synagogues in the neighborhood, built for the most part in the first quarter of the 20th century. Of the more formal synagogues in the neighborhood, six remain standing today.

For a community that thrived in the neighborhood for only a few generations–between World War I and the end of World War II–the old Jewish congregations of Strawberry Mansion left a number of remarkable buildings. Alterations have been made, of course, as the Christian congregations that now worship inside these structures have carefully adapted them to their own beliefs. Though, in a few striking instances, the presence of the previous tenants still remain.

Left Behind: The Death And Life of Strawberry Mansion’s Synagogues

Photos by Michael Buozis

B’nai Menashe Synagogue

B’nai Menashe Synagogue | 2341 North 31st Street, Philadelphia, PA 19132

B’nai Menashe Synagogue on 31st Street, founded in 1925, now houses the Redeem Baptist Church. This synagogue served mostly Eastern European Jews in the northern section of the neighborhood. The name of the synagogue was adopted from the founder of the Mt. Lebanon Cemetery in Collingsdale, Pennsylvania, and the synagogue’s primary benefactor, Menashe Abrams. Though the B’nai Menashe may have been the most humble of Strawberry Mansion’s six surviving synagogues, it is perhaps the most unique, evoking urban European synagogues of the late 19th century. The building survived a firebombing attempt in October 1953. It’s now painted in peach and clothed in stucco and aluminum trim.

Kerem Israel Anshe Sfard

Kerem Israel Anshe Sfard | 1813 North 32nd Street, Philadelphia, PA 19121

The next two synagogues–one of them the most grand in the neighborhood–stand practically across the street from one another. The Kerem Israel Anshe Sfard on 32nd and Morse Streets retains much of its original character and now serves as a Baptist church. Originally a Methodist church, the orthodox congregation bought the building in 1917. Kerem Israel was the last congregation to leave the neighborhood in 1971. Its stone façade is almost medieval and imposing despite the windows being replaced with glass cubes.


Beth Israel Temple | 1806 North 32nd Street, Philadelphia, PA 19121

Across the street, just south on 32nd Street, is the Beth Israel Temple, the neighborhood’s largest synagogue. It was the first that I visited that retains a Jewish symbol on its façade. The congregation this building served dates back to 1840–the third to form in Philadelphia. The temple, designed by Frank Hahn, was built in 1909. Above the entrance you can still read the words “Beth,” though time and weather have worn them down greatly. The façade shows modern French and Byzantine influences. The interior galleries were inspired by the Keneseth Israel Temple at Broad and Montgomery, according to a history of the structure written by members of the congregation. The dome at the heart of the building has a 50-foot circumference and reaches 80 feet above street level. More than 100 years after it was built, it might still be the most impressive structure in the neighborhood.

Rabbi Kazan tells me that after World War II, synagogue architecture changed significantly as the communities moved into the suburbs. Each of Strawberry Mansion’s synagogues contained a balcony—or mechitza–where women worshipped separately from men. The new suburban synagogues, which were often called “Jewish community centers,” would have a more open worship space that was accessible to all, with a large room behind the mechitza for recreation. “The newly ordained rabbis were trying to change synagogue architecture to increase interactivity and usefulness for the community,” says Rabbi Kazan.


Aitz Chaim Nusach Sfard | 3213 West Cumberland Street, Philadelphia, PA 19132

Aitz Chaim Nusach Sfard on Cumberland Street–now home to Faith Temple–was built in 1918. In an old archived photo the Faith Temple sign is visible, but beneath it you can still see two Stars of David in stained glass above the entryway. The Stars have since been replaced with wooden crosses. The Halacha, which contains the commandments of the Jewish faith, says that a synagogue building retains its holiness even after it is no longer used as a house of worship by Jews.

Chevra Thillum Anshe Sfard

Chevra Thillum Anshe Sfard | 3011 West Cumberland Street, Philadelphia, PA 19132

The former Chevra Thillum Anshe Sfard evokes a school building and may have been based on the Tel Sai Yeshiva in Russia. In a photo from the 1990s, there are crosses on the double doors on the front of the synagogue, a modest brick structure built in 1917. Those crosses are now gone, but the big white box cross with the name of the church hanging out over the sidewalk remains. There’s also a Star of David–right underneath the cross and above the doors–in blue stained glass.

B’nai Jeshurun

B’nai Jeshurun | 2117 North 33rd Street, Philadelphia, PA 19121

On 33rd Street, going north along Fairmount Park toward Ridge Avenue, sits the former B’nai Jeshurun, now Cornerstone Baptist Church. A massive white cross hangs over the door and another heads skyward with its crossbar stretching above the roof of the gleaming yellow and brown stone façade. Two short lancet windows let in light on the park side. Above the entrance–under an intricately carved stone arch and between two sets of nested columns–a stone Star of David and menorah floats like a massive beacon high above the street.



  1. Lawrence says:

    Fascinating piece. I’ve seen lots of repurposed synagogues along the Boulevard and in the Wynnefield area, too. I used to find them in Baltimore – Sanborn maps are a good resource for finding them. Definitely worthy of a bigger project.

    1. Harris M Freedman says:

      I married Hennrietta Abrams whose family owned the synagogue

  2. MadHungarian says:

    Interesting. I live in West Oak Lane which also has a lot of repurposed former synagogues. Some of them have distinctive architecture like the one at Old York Road and Stenton, now known as True United Church, which has a frieze of the Twelve Tribes in the facade above the entry doors. One building went through a stint as a Christian church and is now a mosque. Where else in the world would that happen?

    1. Ed Duffy says:

      Check out 6735-37 North 16th St, formerly Ahavath Israel synagogue, designed by Louis I. Kahn.

      1. Bill Gotfon says:

        That shul was 2 blocks from our row house on the corner of 16th and Orland st. I went to a number of bar mitzvahs of my pals there. It was plain, not ornamental. Enjoyable feeling inside that room.

    2. Richard Stern says:

      Happened in Spain (cordoba, toledo?). Same building used at different times as synagogue, mosque, church.

    3. David Brill says:

      The building at Old York Rd and Stenton was the old Congregation Emanu-El (until 1985). My family went there when I was a little kid and we lived in Lynnewood Gardens. Julian Preisler’s book “Historic Synagogues of Philadelphia & the Delaware Valley” documents some of these repurposed synagogues.

      1. Eve Rosen says:

        Do you know what denomination Congregation Emanu-El was or who the rabbi was in 1955?

        1. Bob Levitt says:

          Emanu-El was a conservative synagogue led by Rabbi Maxwell Farber.
          He was joined by Cantor Spiro in 1955.

          1. Sandy Freid says:

            Do you remember Mr. Lowenthal? My sister and I took the 55 bus to Hebrew school from Elkins Park. And, of course, you have to remember the Hot Shoppe!

    4. Sandra Abramson says:

      I attended Hebrew school at Emanu-el from 1956 through 1962. I passed there recently and it brought back so many memories!

    5. Ellen Bressler says:

      I believe that was Emanuel, my grandparents synagogue in the 50’s and 60’s. My grandfather was extremely active, was the Gabri, grandmother was president of sisterhood, hadassah, they received joint person of year awarding late 60’s donated a Torah and Torah crowns and my parents donate a stain glass memorial window when they died ( not sure where’s ll of those items went after it building was sold to a church.they were Rose and David Satinsky

  3. Bride of the Juggler says:

    I bet the Kosher Deli you passed was the old Sandler’s deli. I remember going there with my very nervous mother in the 80s. They had a big case inside of smoked turkey parts and ribs. When I visited Roumanian Kosher Sausage Company in Chicago recently, the smell of smoked meat that hit me as I entered brought me right back to visits to Sandler’s. I even remember if you got the nice lady, you got lean corned beef. If you got the mean lady with the mole, you got fatty, badly cut corned beef.

    1. Sandy Goldfine says:

      My parents were married at B’nai Menashe.
      I believe the original Sandler’s manufacturing facility was near there.
      I remember the “smell” of the hot dogs & salami’s being made!

      1. Judith Robinson says:

        Hello Sandy!
        I attended McIntyre Elementary school, then located at 30th and Gordon Sts. We passed that building formerly B’nai Menashe, daily.
        Samuel Sandler manufacturing ( meat house) on Fletcher Street,the taste of corned Beef,knockwurst,etc.,some of the best memories.

        1. Lillian Zelitch Fisher says:

          I lived at 2938 W.Dauphin st. moved there in 1934. Sandler’s was right around the corner on Fletcher st. My Mom would buy the cracked salomi for .25 cents and fry it with eggs during the depression, Remainedmy husband’s favorite dish til he passed away in Nov. 2019. Memories I love to recall.

          1. r fleishman says:

            my dad had a store – all in one- at 31st + Norris about 1935 – 1950?
            his name was Sam and had his two older brothers working for him.. Irv was the butcher and Joe ran the produce
            any recollection or exact address would be appreciated.

          2. Roberta Binderman says:

            My father had a Kosher butcher store on 31st St. It was called Black’s Kosher Meat Market. Its original owner was Joe Black, but my father became a partner after WWII.

  4. Aaron Finestone says:

    Excellent. About 20 years ago, I did a discovery tour of ex-synagogues using a 1955 Bulletin Almanac as my guide. I found a place on a north-south street in Strawberry Mansion which had the signs of the zodiac and the names of the months in Hebrew painted on the walls of the second floor balcony.

    1. Meghan says:

      I live there now! 32nd and Morse. The paintings are still there, though sadly deteriorated – the building was abandoned for some years. We’re doing our best to stabilize and preserve what we can!

  5. Linda Dann says:

    There is something both beautiful and tragic about this- later generations will probably be more able to see the natural cultural evolution of this- and yet a part of me- given the quality of life in this area cannot help but consider both the loss of the community and the plight of those who relocated there.

  6. Roberta Binderman says:

    When I was a little girl, I went to the Beth Israel synagogue for Sunday School. Across the street was a church. I remember seeing Father Divine standing on the church steps, waving to his congregation. Beth Israel was incorporated into Beth Zion Beth Israel at 18th and Spruce. But I still remember Beth Israel in Strawberry Mansion and Rabbi Finklestein. What sweet memories.

    1. Ann Jaffe Pace says:

      My parents were married in Beth Israel in 1930, probably by Rabbi Finkelstein. My grandmother, Hannah Matusow, was a long-time member, president of the Sisterhood, etc. I also started Sunday School there and attended until my immediate family moved to New York when I was in second grade.

  7. Joseph Abrams says:

    Menashe Abrams was my great-grandfather. My family still runs Mt Lebanon Cemetery. Although I was never inside, I am very proud to be able to say I am an offspring of such a great man.

    1. Joel Spivak says:

      My family’s has many grave sites in this cemetery. I still have some that I would give to anyone who would want them

    2. Laurie B. Davis says:

      I have relatives that are supposedly buried at Mount Lebanon Cemetery but I can find no evidence on Find A Grave. Their death certificates state they are buried at Mount Lebanon. Their names are Louis Davis, death 1939 and Fanny Davis, 1945.

      Any help would be greatly appreciated.

      1. Caren Beth SAVO says:

        Hi. I put a request in to Find a Grave for a picture of the stones for Fanny and Louis Davis for you. Check their site every now and again.

  8. Marvin Berman says:

    Old Synagogue in Strawberry Mansion 2016 N. 32nd St. at Page St.
    I do not remember the name. I actually heard that this synagogue was functioning after 1971.,-75.1856216,3a,75y,281.43h,99.71t/data=!3m6!1e1!3m4!1sQF_ob93SwGpOKPSqisM5DQ!2e0!7i13312!8i6656

  9. Ina Silikovitz Burwasser says:

    When I was a kid, I used to go to B’nai Jeshurun. After the children’s service, they gave out chocolate candy.

    1. GS says:

      I’m doing some research on the Bnei Jeshurun synagogue would love to talk to you

  10. Martin Hyman says:

    I was Bar Mitzvaed at B’nai Menashe Synagogue in 1957.
    Such great memories about the old Mansion.
    Annie’s appetizer store on York Street across from the Famous Deli.
    Stein’s kosher butcher shop was across the stet form my home at York and Patton street.

  11. DB says:

    FYI, that “huge cross” is there to conceal antennas inside of it.

  12. Carolyn Hernandez says:

    I am enjoying reading all these replies from everyone of their memories of Synagogues in Strawberry Mansion. When my family moved to 29th & Lehigh around 1966 when I was 5 years old (not Strawberry Mansion but a close neighbor) there were still a few Jewish delicatessen’s/grocery Markets/dry cleaners and other shops still exiting in the neighborhood. There was the Lehigh food market on the corner of 29th & Lehigh. There was the delicatessen on Lehigh and Newkirk street. There was a little store on the corner of 29th & Huntington. There was even some older Jewish people (persons) living in the neighborhood that never left. Yes, the community was once Jewish. And I have never paid attention to the old Synagogues in the neighborhood that I grew up in that were now mostly Baptist churches until I became a much older adult and it was brought to my attention via the internet, probably on this very site right here. I have been in at least one or two of those old Synagogues that were now a Baptist church. Such wonderful history.

  13. SZ says:

    I’ve regularly driven by B’nai Jeshurun on 33rd Street, a route that gets me to the Girard Avenue bridge and from there to West Philly without having to endure too much traffic. It wasn’t until I returned from a trip to Israel that I realized this building–the tan stone–was likely intended to stand as a reminder of the Temple in Jerusalem. Is there any evidence of such a connection?

  14. W.H.Jones says:

    The dome of the Beth Israel collapsed this past Saturday August 2nd 2020
    A Licence and Inspections sticker is posted on the main entrance.

    1. Jonathan Finkelstein says:

      I saw posts recently indicating that the building, in which I went to Sunday and afternoon Hebrew school, and was Bar Mitzvah in 1957, was demolished. 😝

  15. Daniel Elroi says:

    Does anyone have any record, photo, anything at all about B’nai Jeshurun’s original home on the corner of 31st and Diamond? My grandfather Harry S. Davidowitz was its first rabbi, but other than directories that list the original location being there, I cannot find anything else. It is *possible* that they were using space in the Diamond Street Baptist Church, which I believe stood there, until the 33rd Street building was constructed. Does anyone know? Thank you.

    1. Robert Sacks says:

      1 of my Great Uncles was Emanuel(Manny) Sacks. His brother was Lester Sacks. Manny lived in Strawberry Mansion area. He was home every Friday night to take his Mother to Shabbat. He was in the Entertainment business before dying of Leukemia in 1958

    2. Shalom Bronstein says:

      A booklet was published by B’nai Jeshurun when it closed in 1960 with many illustrations and a very detailed history of the congregation. I have a photocopy. Check with the library at Gratz College & at the U of P to see it. My wife’s family were very active members there and my father-in-law was the principal of one of the Hebrew Schools in what we referred to as “The Mansion.”

      1. IreneGitterman Ostroff says:

        I lived at 3040 York street went to McIntyre elementary school and was married in 1944 at Bnai Jeshurun synagogue which was the major Conservative synagogue in Strawberry Mansion. Rabbi Solomon Barsel was the Rabbi. He was born in Israel came to the US and studied and was ordained in US. I went to Fitzsimon Jr High and Simon Gratz High School.

        1. GS says:

          Hi Irene, I’m doing research of the Jewish Histroy of Strawberry Mansion, would love to talk

          1. Lillian (Lynn) Fisher says:

            Irene Gitterman Ostroff Hi I graduated from Gratz in Jan. 1947 also went to Fitz I lived at 2938 W.Dauphin st. Near the dental factory. I was married at the Colonial cafe at 5th and South. I will be 95 on November 18th. Memories haunt my reveory and I am once again at the Park Movies, Robin Hood Dell, Cherry Pit and as a lttle girl McIntyre school.Thank God for memories!

  16. Stephen Schwartz says:

    Thanks for the memories. My Bar Mitzvah, in 1948, was at Kerem Israel which was Orthodox, but then I regularly attended Temple Beth Israel located diagonally across from it on 32nd street, until I graduated from Temple University in 1957. Beth Israel was relatively Conservative as was Bnai Jeshurun, a few blocks away.. There were no reform synagogues in the area at that time.

  17. Donna Kaulkin says:

    We lived at 2413 N. 31st St. and I went to McIntire, as did my father before me. I believe my grandfather was a president and possibly a founder of one of these synagogues. We moved to Mt. Airy in 1950.

    1. bud levin says:


      i, too, attended mcintyre — along with my grandmother who was studying english. i, too, lived at 2413 n. 31st(downstairs). for some of the time i lived there (ca 1942-1950), pinny brookman and his family lived upstairs.

      i passed b’nai menashe daily, on my way to mcintyre. my grandparents and parents were members; i attended occasionally. women still in the balcony, schnapps and cake after the service.

    2. Herb Levin says:

      My first home as a child was 2413 N.31st St., first floor. 1945-1951approx. My parents, Morris and Freda Levin, owned the structure, and rented the second floor. I went to McIntyre, and went to service at the synagogue on 31 st with my grandmother. Fond memories.

  18. Judi Segal says:

    I lived at 3029 Susquehanna Ave. I remember my grandfather Louis Walode was a member at the orthodox synagogue 1 33rd St.The the men set downstairs to worship and women sets upstairs. The synagogue was across from Fairmount Park everything was so beautiful when I lived in The mansion in the 1940s. I remember flurmers ice cream parlor.Sherries Ice Cream. Also the The theater on diamond Street going to the movies every Saturday matinee. I remember a candy store movie theater and filled my bag with candies.I’m not sure if it was 31st. Street or 32nd St. I took ballet and tap dance. I even went to Heber school for one year. I remember the Dell in Fairmount Park playing music I remember Smith play ground. I remember during the summer they had Arts & Crafts. Those were the good old day. Times have changed so much. But fond memories.

    1. Anna V Forrester says:

      Judi, I am doing some oral history work about Smith Playground & Playhouse and would love to talk about your memories of Smith if you’d be willing to share them!

  19. Fascinating urban anthropology. In my neighborhood we had a townhouse Catholic Church elegantly titled “The Spanish Chapel.” It serviced new immigrants from Puerto Rico in the 50’s and 60’s. The address was 1907 Spring Garden Street. The Archdiocese of Philadelphia wasn’t thrilled about the Chapel, but they sanctioned it and allowed Cathedral Parish priests to say Mass there. Sadly, it closed a few years ago, but the structure remains. This is an important dialogue, well done.

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