As the only territory completely under the control of the Federal Government, it is not surprising that Washington, D.C. is home to the only synagogue whose existence was enacted by an Act of Congress and signed by a U.S. President.
The initial meeting to establish a Hebrew Congregation in Washington was held at the home of Mr. H. Lisberger. The notes of that meeting, as well as numerous other documents of the congregation, were written in German, revealing that a majority of the original members of the Washington Jewish community were immigrants from Germany. As they came from a region where Jewish communities were autonomous bodies existing at the beneficence of the municipality, it was natural for them to be concerned about whether or not a Jewish community would be permitted to own its own property. The members of the fledgling Hebrew Congregation therefore petitioned Congress for an Act on Incorporation. Not long thereafter, the “Act for the Benefit of the Hebrew Congregation in the City of Washington,” was signed by President Franklin Pierce. This act granted the Hebrew Congregation the rights, privileges and immunities that were already granted to Christian churches.
When the Hebrew Congregation was large enough and sufficiently established to purchase its first building, the congregation chose to follow the custom of the German Reform movement and installed an organ to accompany their choir. This choice created a schism in the community and a breakaway congregation established Adas Israel Congregation.
As today is Presidents Day, it is interesting to note the Hebrew Congregation’s connection to three other U.S. Presidents. The cornerstone of the Hebrew Congregation’s second location was laid by President William McKinley in 1897. President Harry S. Truman laid the cornerstone of the congregation’s current location in 1952, and the building was dedicated by President Dwight D. Eisenhower in 1955.