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Education: What Do You Know...About Synagogues?
by Kevin Thurm

Amphitheatre of the Reform congregation
with the largest membership in North America.

Editor’s Note: This is the first article in a series designed to increase your Jewish knowledge in an entertaining way. Enjoy!

1. In what century does the synagogue emerge as a well-established institution that serves as the very center of the social and religious life of the people?

A. 1st century C.E.
B. 2nd century C.E.
C. 3rd century C.E.
D. 4th century C.E.

2. Where was the first synagogue in the Americas located?

A. Jodensavanne, Suriname
B. Bridgetown, Barbados
C. Willemstad, Curacao
D. Recife, Brazil

3. Where can you find the oldest and still active Jewish congregation in the Americas?

A. Charleston, South Carolina
B. New York City
C. Havana, Cuba
D. Willemstad, Curacao

4. Where can you find the oldest and still active Reform synagogue in the Americas?

A. Baltimore, Maryland
B. Cincinnati, Ohio
C. Savannah, Georgia
D. Charleston, S. Carolina

5. Where can you find Canada’s oldest, still active Reform congregation?

A. Kingston, Ontario
B. Toronto, Ontario
C. Westmount, Quebec
D. Hamilton, Ontario

6. In what year was the very first Reform temple established in Germany, leading to the flourishing of Reform Judaism in Europe?

A. 1760
B. 1785
C. 1810
D. 1835

7. What organization of synagogues produces Reform Judaism magazine?

A. Union for Reform Judaism
B. Union for Judaism
C. Union for American Judaism
D. Union of American Hebrew Congregations

8. How many congregations worldwide are affiliated with the Reform/Progressive/Liberal Movement?

A. about 600 congregations in 15 countries
B. about 800 congregations in 25 countries
C. about 1,000 congregations in 35 countries
D. about 1,200 congregations in 45 countries

9. What North American Reform congregation has the largest number of members?

A. Washington Hebrew Congregation, Washington, D.C.
B. Temple Emanu-El, Dallas, Texas
C. Temple Israel, West Bloomfield, Michigan
D. Stephen S Wise Temple, Los Angeles, California

10. What North American Reform congregation has the smallest number of members?

A. Mattoon Jewish Community Center, Shelbyville, Illinois
B. Mishkan Israel Congregation, Selma, Alabama
C. Meir Chayim Temple, McGehee, Arkansas
D. Temple Beth Tikvah, Regina, Saskatchewan, Canada 

Synagogue Quiz Answers

1. A. In the 1st century C.E. the synagogue emerges as the very center of the social and religious life of the people, harmoniously cooperating with the Temple in Eretz Israel. Sources as varied as the Talmud, Philo, Josephus, the New Testament, and archaeology afford evidence of its existence, with every indication that it is anything but a new institution. As just one example, Philo (20 B.C.E.-50 C.E.) states that the large population of Alexandria had many synagogues in many quarters of the city, among them a great synagogue where the members of the various craft guilds sat together and which was so huge that the voice of the officiant was inaudible and flags had to be waved to indicate to the worshipers when they should make the responses. (Source: Encyclopedia Judaica)

2. D. Founded in 1630, Kahal Zur Israel (Rock of Israel) served the spiritual needs of about 1,400 Dutch Jews in Recife, Brazil. The synagogue flourished until 1654, when the Portuguese conquered Northern Brazil and the Jews fled. Some sailed to New Amsterdam; by doing so, they abandoned the oldest synagogue in the New World but formed the first Jewish community in North America. The Nidhe Israel Synagogue in Bridgetown, Barbados was built in 1651 by another group of Jews fleeing Spanish-controlled Recife. Its building was destroyed by a hurricane in 1831 and rebuilt two years later; it was reconsecrated in 1929 after a period of disuse. The Beracha ve Shalom synagogue was established in Jodensavanne, Suriname in 1685 and fell out of use in 1865, although the ruins still exist. The Mikve Israel-Emanuel synagogue building in Willemstad, Curacao was built in 1732 to accommodate a Jewish community that had formed on the island in 1651 in search of religious freedom in the Dutch colonies. (Sources:,,,

3. D. The Mikve Israel-Emanuel congregation in Curacao was founded by Spanish and Portuguese Jews in 1651, and is still active today. Charleston’s oldest congregation, Kahal Kadosh Beth Elohim, was founded in 1749. New York City’s oldest congregation, Shearith Israel, dates back to 1654. Cuba’s oldest synagogue, Temple Chevet Achim, was founded in 1914 but no longer serves a congregation. (Sources:,,,,

4. D. Kahal Kadosh Beth Elohim in Charleston, South Carolina, which dates back to 1749, was the first to become Reform in 1840. Whereas Congregation Mickve Israel of Savannah, GA was founded earlier—1733—by Spanish and Portuguese Jews, it became Reform much later. Isaac M. Wise Temple in Cincinnati was incorporated in 1842. Har Sinai Congregation in Ownings Mills, Maryland (outside Baltimore), originally named Har Sinai Verein, was founded in 1842.It is the oldest in this group that was created Reform. (Sources: The Georgia Historical Commission,,,,, Professor Jonathan Sarna)

5. D. In 1853 a small group of German Jewish families banded together to form the Hebrew Benevolent Society of Anshe-Sholem of Hamilton, which would become Temple Anshe Sholom. Congregation Iyr HaMelech in Kingston, Ontario was founded in 1975. Founded in 1856, Holy Blossom Temple is the oldest Jewish congregation in Toronto. On August 23, 1882, Temple Emanu-El Beth Sholom in Westmount, Quebec held its founding meeting. (Sources:,,,

6. C. In 1810, the first Reform temple, founded in Germany by Israel Jacobson, opened its doors in the town of Seesen. (Source: Reform Judaism magazine)

7. A. The Union for Reform Judaism (formerly known as the Union of American Hebrew Congregations), the congregational arm of the Reform Movement, works to create and sustain some 900 Reform Jewish congregations in North America. It publishes Reform Judaism magazine, the one link between the Reform Movement and every Reform Jew; provides leadership and vision on spiritual, ethical, and public policy issues; offers congregational program materials and expert consultations; serves as the voice of North American Reform congregations throughout the world; provides camp and Israel programs; creates Biennial “family gathering” conventions; supports the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion; and much more. To learn more: (Source:

8. D. There are more than 1,200 Reform/Progressive/Liberal congregations in 45 countries on 6 continents. Approximately 900 or 75% of these congregations are based in North America and are affiliated with the Union for Reform Judaism. (Source:

9. C. Temple Israel in West Bloomfield, Michigan has 3,385 membership units. Stephen S. Wise Temple in Los Angeles, California has 2,889 membership units. Washington Hebrew Congregation in Washington, D.C. has 2,773 membership units. Temple Emanu-El in Dallas, Texas has 2,500 membership units. (Source: Union for Reform Judaism MUM report)

10. A. Mattoon Jewish Community Center in Shelbyville, Illinois has four membership units. Temple Beth Tikvah in Regina, Saskatchewan in Canada has five membership units. Mishkan Israel Congregation in Selma, Alabama has six membership units. Meir Chayim Temple in McGehee, Arkansas has seven membership units. (Source: Union for Reform Judaism MUM report)

Kevin Thurm, a retired airline pilot, is a member of Temple Emanuel in Greensboro, North Carolina, where he serves on the Social Action Committee and the Jewish Festival Committee.


Union for Reform Judaism.