Friday, July 13, 2012

Temple Israel

Temple Israel, formerly a Methodist Church, is located at 200 State Street, on the south side opposite the corner of State and Penhallow Streets.

The Methodist society of Portsmouth organized at the Hutchings House on Washington Street in 1808. Around 1784, they purchased the Universalist Church on Vaughan Street (later renamed the Cameneum) and then moved to State Street after constructing this edifice in 1827 at a cost of $9,000. The first pastor to hold services in this church was a revivalist named Reverend John H. Maffit. The Methodists worshipped here until 1911, when the church was sold to the Jewish population of Portsmouth.

Portsmouth . . . Historic and Picturesque published the photograph below of the Methodist Church in 1902.

 My photograph of Temple Israel, taken in 2012 while walking in Portsmouth, shows how the old building has changed over the past century after converting to Judaism in 1912.

The first known Jewish family in Portsmouth was Abraham and Rachel Isaac, who arrived from Prussia around 1780. During their lifetimes, they were the only Jewish people in town. Abraham made a good living as an auctioneer and built a sturdy home on the south side of State Street opposite the Rockingham House. Rachel ran a china shop out of their home, which was always closed on Saturdays and Jewish holidays. After Abraham died in 1803,  Rachel lived in Portsmouth until 1813 and then moved to New Ipswich to live with their adopted son.

The Jewish population in Portsmouth remained low until around the turn of the 19th Century. There were about sixteen families during the 1890s and  perhaps thirty in 1900. They organized into the Temple of Israel in 1905 and began worshipping in a rented room. Harry Liberson was their first religious leader. The society became a legally-recognized religious entity in 1910.

Temple of Israel, which shortened its name to Temple Israel in the 1940s, purchased the synagogue on State Street from the Methodists in 1911, and they have continued to worship here since 1912.

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