Our History

Agudas Israel Congregation, the only synagogue in Henderson County, North Carolina, began its foundation in 1900, when Edward Lewis and his family settled in Hendersonville and opened a general mercantile business. Harry Patterson and family soon followed. Gradually his friends and relatives settled in Hendersonville and established businesses.

These emigrant families who chose to establish their homes in a small rural town instead of the big cities throughout America, brought with them their Jewish customs and observances. They began to hold services in each other’s homes on a rotating basis and later used the Masonic Temple.

By 1922, twenty-seven men and women decided to formalize their religious practices and charter a congregation, Agudas Israel Congregation. In 1925, they purchased an old electric company which they converted into a synagogue. The synagogue was expanded and remodeled in 1964. Having a permanent house of worship gave them a place to pray for their growing numbers and also provided legitimacy of their own faith to their gentile neighbors. Agudas Israel started as an Orthodox synagogue, but by the 1950’s, they began to embrace Conservative Judaism. In 1996, the Congregation chose to affiliate with the Union of American Hebrew Congregations, now called Union for Reform Judaism.

Once the sanctuary was completed, the founding fathers sought out spiritual leadership. Chaim Williamowsky, an ordained Orthodox rabbi from Lithuania, became the synagogue’s first rabbi and served from 1925 to 1930. Beryl Cohen, a graduate of Diskin Orphanage and Yeshiva Seminary in Jerusalem and congregant since his arrival in 1920, then began leading religious services, teaching Hebrew school and ritually slaughtering chickens as the local shochet. He faithfully served until his death in 1964. The need for a qualified person to conduct services was filled by traveling circuit rabbis and senior student rabbis from the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion.

After much consideration and with a look towards the future, the Congregation decided to begin a major building campaign in 2000. Five acres were purchased in Laurel Park and the construction of a new synagogue was underway. Our new home at 505 Glasgow Lane was the beginning of expanded programming and enhanced worship services and our faithful commitment to grow and provide an enriched legacy for future generations.

Treasures of Agudas Israel Congregation booklet, created and designed by Dr. Judi Berson-Levinson, by clicking on: Treasures of Agudas Israel Booklet. This booklet is filled with great photos and information about the history of our synagogue.