Congregation Beth Israel
Oldest Orthodox Congregation in Metro New Orleans
By the 1880's, the Dryades Street neighborhood held a number of small
Orthodox congregations, divided, generally, along the lines of the various
nationalities of the community.  In 1904, a number of these congregations merged
to form a single Modern Orthodox synagogue, which they named Beth Israel.
With the help of both the Orthodox and Reform communities of the city, they
were able to purchase the imposing home of former Mayor Joseph Shakespeare in
the 1600 block of Carondelet Street.  The congregation moved into its new home in
1906 and experienced rapid growth.  For many years, Beth Israel was the largest
Orthodox congregation in the South.
The Shakespeare home was demolished and a beautiful and impressive
new Byzantine structure, featuring a seating capacity of 1,200, was
constructed in 1924.  In 1926, Beth Israel continued its expansion by
building the Menorah Institute - the educational, social and cultural
arm of the congregation - around the corner from the synagogue.
The second Beth Israel synagogue building, ca. 1930's
Original home of Congregation Beth Israel, sketch ca. 1890's.
Until his death in 1896, this was the home of Joseph
Shakespeare, two-term mayor of New Orleans in the
1880's.  This building was demolished in 1924.
Menorah Institute, Euterpe Street, shortly after construction.
In 1963, Beth Israel purchased land on Canal Boulevard, constructed a
new building and moved there in 1971.  The levee failures caused between
9-11 feet of water to inundate the Lakeview neighborhood in 2005.  The flood
devastated the synagogue's interior and, despite efforts to save them,
all seven of its Torah scrolls were destroyed, as well as, over 3,000 prayer
books and all of the furnishings.  Most of the synagogue's congregation
members lived in the Lakeview area and lost their homes in the flood.
Beth Israel was unable to renovate the building on Canal Boulevard.
Above and below, current photos of (above) the old Beth Israel synagogue on
Carondelet and (below) the old Menorah Institute building on Euterpe Street.
After the levee failures, Beth Israel's congregation began sharing space with
Congregation Gates of Prayer, a Reform synagogue in Metairie.  In 2009, the
congregation purchased land adjacent to Gates of Prayer and, in 2010, a
groundbreaking ceremony for the new Beth Israel synagogue was held.
Photo directly above is courtesy of Infrogmation and Flickr Creative Commons.