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About KI

Knesseth Israel Congregation (KI) is the only Orthodox Jewish synagogue in the state of Alabama, and the first Orthodox congregation to organize in Birmingham in 1889.

After incorporating in 1889, the first building for the Congregation was constructed in 1903 on the southwest corner of 17th Street North and 7th Avenue North, Birmingham, at the heart of what was then a Jewish neighborhood populated by immigrants from Russia and Eastern Europe.

In 1955 the Congregation moved to a then-remote site at 3225 Montevallo Road in the recently established City of Mountain Brook. A pillar erected in the yard of the synagogue on Montevallo Road (which was considered incomplete, with further plans for a 1200-1500-seat sanctuary) was intended to serve as the cornerstone of a more permanent building. A second phase, adding a social and recreational wing, was undertaken in 1969.

In May 1984, then Rabbi Harry (Tzvi) Rosen (who went on to edit Kashrus Kurrents for the Star-K) discovered that one of the Torah scrolls had been stolen from the synagogue. While talking with local police about the theft, he received a phone call asking for ransom money to return the Torah scroll, at which point the police called in the FBI. While the investigation was ongoing, in early June the Rabbi received another phone call indicating that the missing Torah had been found in a Salvation Army donation bin.

By the turn of the century, Knesseth Israel Congregation was facing deteriorating physical conditions in its 40-plus-year-old synagogue facilities. As a result the Congregation began planning a new building in 2003. After raising over $5.5 million in donations for new construction, the Congregation voted in December 2005 to move from its Montevallo location to its present site on Overton Road. Of the nearly 100 families in Knesseth Israel at the time, many moved with the Congregation to the Overton neighborhood which straddles Mountain Brook, Vestavia and Cahaba Heights.

The new 18,000-square-foot brick building was completed two years later. On 11 November 2007 (Rosh Chodesh Kislev), the Congregation — joined by much of the Birmingham Jewish community — held a celebratory procession carrying KI's six Torah scrolls into its new synagogue. Shabbat services were held in the new building for the first time a week later, on Shabbat Parashat Vayetse. The Overton Road facility includes a 150-seat main sanctuary, a smaller chapel, a mikvah for ritual immersion, an outdoor permanent Sukkah structure, offices, classrooms, library, social hall, playground, and two separate kitchens for the preparation of kosher meals. Above the Aron Kodesh on the main sanctuary's east wall is a 50-square-foot rose-style stained-glass window designed and fabricated by local artist Andrea Lucas. The following year, a new Residence located across the street was built for KI's Rabbi and his family. The house is large enough to accomodate a growing rabbinical family and, from time-to-time, several visitors at once. Congregational guests have included many distinguished scholars-in-residence from around the world who provided weekend-long educational opportunities.

The main building now serves as the independent Fred and Brenda Friedman Center for Jewish Life, which hosts events and programs for several Jewish organizations, while also providing a permanent home for Knesseth Israel.

 

 

(Last revised 30 October 2018 by M.D.G.)

Sun, December 16 2018 8 Tevet 5779