The Jewish Community
While it is true that most of the Main Line was composed of people who were both Christian and white, in time certain minorities began to grow. Here, in territory that was founded in the 1680s and was steeped in Quakerism and Protestantism, a flourishing Jewish community has emerged. Beginning in 1884, the emigration of the Harrison family from Louisiana signaled a change, a change mirrored by communities as diverse as those in New York City and Auburn, Maine. Devoted to their faith, Jews worshipped in their homes until 1936 when the Main Line Hebrew Association was chartered. The houses of worship which ensued exhibit some of the finest modern architecture in the region.
Main Line Reform Temple-Beth Elohim (Reform)
Founded in 1952, the Temple is housed in a circular structure that was designed by Matthew B. Ehrlich and Ezekiel Levinson. It is the only Main Line congregation to have been founded by a woman, Mrs. Natalie Lansing Hodes, who headed a group of 16 families. It was dedicated in 1961. The stained glass windows were designed by Gabriel Loire, of Chartes, France. The Star of David, illuminated by the roof skylight, was designed by Joseph J. Greenberg, Jr., who also created the gold leaf ark and menorah in the structure’s artistic interior. Temple Beth Hillel-Beth El (Conservative)
It was founded in 1958 by 18 families meeting in the den of Frances and Gerald Chalal’s home. Their structure, designed by Norman N. Rice, was built in 1965, dedicated in 1968. It resembles the Bath Houses in Trenton, designed by Louis I. Kahn, a classmate of Rice’s. Constructed of Bermuda brick and concrete, it consists of three squares and a dome. The interior of the sanctuary is in modified Sephardic style with the pews facing an open court. Temple Adath Israel of the Main Line (Conservative)
A rooftop cupola and a 12-sided structure serve as the centerpiece of Lower Merion’s pioneer Jewish congregation. Their roots date to March 1936, the founding of the Main Line Hebrew Association by ten local businessmen. That original charter was amended in 1947. The structure, built in 1958-59, was designed by world renowned architect Pietro Belluschi and his associate, Charles Frederick Wise. It symbolizes the 12 tribes of Israel. The interior is dramatic, containing a screen on the bimah (altar) designed by noted sculptor George Kratina, an ark with sterling silver lettering and a unique candelabra. The base of the cupola forms a Star of David. Lower Merion Synagogue (Orthodox)
Founded in 1954 by a small number of families, it is the Township’s original orthodox congregation. It has always been known for “the spirit of its dedication to the perpetuation of authentic Jewish values.” Two sanctuaries are both in use; the newer one, built in 1980 and designed by Gordon K. Palmer, is simplistic, preserving the traditional conventions of Judaism. The reading desk is in the center of the room and the ark is in the front…its doors symbolizing the gates of heaven. The main floor seats the men of the congregation, while elevated areas flanking the main floor form the Ezrat Nashim…the women’s gallery, tribunal, or courtyard, like synagogues in days of old. Har Hazaitim Cemetery
Located on Greaves Lane off Conshohocken State Road in Gladwyne is Lower Merion’s only Jewish burial ground. It dates from 1893, when 15 beneficial associations purchased a site that had been a quarry to provide a dignified burial in accordance with Jewish law. The cemetery has been inactive since 1945. A nearby congregation has since assumed responsibility for it and will form a nonprofit corporation for its care.
—Written by Robert D. Weiss