Judaism had an early start in Charleston. Congregation B’nai Israel or Temple Israel was founded in 1856 — seven years before the state of West Virginia was even created. However, the discovery of the congregation’s cemetery (WV’s oldest Jewish cemetery) hints that it might even be earlier.
It wasn’t until 1873 though, that the congregation was formally and legally chartered. Named the Hebrew Educational Society, its first service was held in a room above a store in Capitol Street. This room was the congegation’s venue for several years, and number of services was also held here. In the same year, the Union of American Hebrew Congregation (now known as the Union for Reform Judaism) was formed in Cincinnati, and the local congregation was one of its original members.
After two years, the congregation moved to a small temple on Lee Street, and in 1894, a temple built in Virginia Street was dedicated, led by Dr. Isaac Mayer Wise, founder of the UAHC. This temple was the home of the congregation for several years, until it was replaced by the current temple on the corner of Kanawha Boulevard and Chesapeake Avenue.
A number of prominent rabbis have served for Temple Israel. Among them were Dr. Israel Bettam and Dr. Maurice Eisendrath. The congregation is now headed by Rabbi James Cohn.
Congregation B’nai Israel (Temple Israel)
2312 Kanawha Boulevard East
Charleston, West Virginia 25311
Phone: (304) 342-5852
Fax: (304) 342-8612