Congregation Sherith Israel, 160+ Years of Service

Congregation Sherith Israel

Stockton Street

After the formation of the first two Congregations of San Francisco in early April 1851, both of them, Sherith Israel (Polish) and EmanuEl (Bavarian & Alsatian), used rented quarters.

Congregation Sherith Israel's 2nd Building WS 13/1919

Congregation Sherith Israel’s 2nd Building
WS 13/1919

Three years later both Congregations erected their own Synagogues.

Congregation Sherith Israel laid their cornerstone on August 6, 1854, on the east side of Stockton Street between Vallejo and Broadway.

Congregation Emanu-El had preceded it by two weeks with its cornerstone rites.

But Congregation Sherith Israel completed and consecrated their Synagogue on September 8, 1854, six days before the Congregation Emanu-El ceremony was held.

The Sherith Israel lot was 69 by 40 feet in size. The Trustees of the Congregation borrowed $6,000 on August 5, 1854 to pay the building expenses. Those who signed the mortgage for the money were Israel Solomon, President of the Congregation; Barnet Reesling, Vice President and Treasurer; and Henry M. Lewis, Louis Myers, Alexander Friedlander, Judah P. Davies, and Tobias Hochstein, Trustees. The rate of interest was two and one quarter percent per month. (27%/yr.)

The Stockton Street synagogue was used for sixteen years, until in 1870 a new, much larger and grander structure was built at Post and Taylor. But by that time Reform tendencies were evident in the Congregation. A dissident/Orthodox group elected to stay with the old Stockton Street Synagogue, and they formed a new Orthodox Congregation, Shaare Zedek.

This Orthodox group was for some time headed by Abraham Walters, an English Jew of Polish decent, as were many of the Sherith Israel members. Watters had presided over the meetings in the Spring of 1851 intended to establish a United San Francisco Jewish Congregation, but out of which the twins, Emanu-El and Sherith Israel, emerged as a result of the intra-ethnic rivalry.

Post & Taylor

By the late 1860s the 1854 Synagogue of Congregation Sherith Israel on Stockton Street had been outgrown, and a lot at the corner of Taylor and Post was purchased. A structure of 62 by 105 feet, described as decorative Gothic of the 14th century, was built.

Congregation Sherith Israel's 3rd Building. WS 13/1917

Congregation Sherith Israel’s 3rd Building.
WS 13/1917

The cornerstone of the building was laid on March 11, 1870, with the Congregation’s Secretary, Isaiah Cohn, reading an historical sketch which accurately stated that, “In the early part of 1851, a body of Israelites…organized” Sherith Israel.

Less than 6 months later, the Synagogue was consecrated, with its Torahs being carried in a procession from the Stockton Street building.

Rabbi Aron J. Messing officiated.

The interior of the new Synagogue was mainly of rosewood or paneled with California laurel. The pews were cushioned in crimson velvet.

The Synagogue was said to have been, “a work of which the Israelites of San Francisco may well be proud.”

At the Consecration the men, “kept their hats on,” it being a number of years before Reform practices were instituted.

It was noted that the diamonds worn by the ladies flashed everywhere in the sanctuary, which seated 720.

The sale of pews two days after the Consecration raised over $47,000, almost enough to pay the balance owed for the new structure. President Charles Meyer gave $2,450 for his seats; Mr. Levi Shilling (of spice fame), $1,080; Mr. John M. Martin (a Sephard who was a San Francisco County Supervisor), $850.

The 1870 Synagogue was used until 1904, when the Congregation occupied its present grand structure on California at Webster.

California & Webster


Congregation Sherith Israel in its 4th Building at completion. Old Postcard

Congregation Sherith Israel in its 4th Building at completion.
Old Postcard


Congregation Sherith Israel. A Late 20th Century View. WS 14/2095

Congregation Sherith Israel. A Late 20th Century View.
WS 14/2095









More information can be found in the following issues of Western States Jewish History:

  • Sherith Israel Synagogue: San Francisco, California, Norton Stern, 41/2
  • Sherith Israel’s Synagogue: San Francisco, California, Norton Stern 42/2

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