Knesseth Israel Congregation

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Knesseth Israel Congregation (KI) is an Orthodox Jewish synagogue (shul) which has its origins in the first Orthodox congregation to organize in Birmingham in 1891. The synagogue is currently located at 3100 Overton Road. Eytan Yammer began serving as rabbi in 2010.

Their first building was constructed in 1903 on the southwest corner of 17th Street and 7th Avenue North, 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 what is now Mountain Brook. The original downtown synagogue was later incorporated into the structure of the Apostolic Overcoming Holy Church of God on the same site. A pillar erected in the yard of the "temporary" synagogue on Montevallo Road was intended to serve as the cornerstone of a permanent building, but no progress was made on that plan until 2004.

Knesseth Isreal, facing deteriorating conditions in their "temporary" synagogue, began moving forward with plans for a new building that year, but then took up the suggestion of relocating to the site of the former Our Savior Evangelical Lutheran Church on Overton Road. The congregation hoped to take advantage of the high value of the Montevallo Road property, which faces the Birmingham Country Club golf course, to help finance the move, which brought them within a few blocks of the Bais Ariel Chabad Center, strengthening ties within Birmingham's Orthodox Jewish community. The congregation voted in December 2005 to make the move and raised $5.4 million in donations. Because many of the nearly 100 families in Knesseth Israel walk to Sabbath services, the decision required them to find new homes in the Overton neighborhood.

The new 18,000 square-foot brick building was completed in Fall 2007. On November 19, the congregation held a celebratory procession to the new building, carrying the congregation's six Torah scrolls. The new facility includes a sanctuary, a chapel, a mikvah for ritual immersion, an outdoor permanent Sukkah structure, offices, classrooms, library, social hall and two kitchens for preparation of kosher meals. Across the street, on Crosby Road, a new house was built for the KI rabbi. In February 2012 an "eiruv" enclosing approximately 2 square miles surrounding the synagogue, was completed under Rabbi Yammer's direction, with guidance from Rabbi Yaacov Love of New York's Yeshivat Chovevei Torah. The boundary, defined by physical structures such as power lines and fences, symbolically merges the included parcels into a community property, giving observant members of the congregation greater freedom of movement during the Sabbath. The status of the eiruv is confirmed weekly by visual inspection. (map)

However, in July 2012 the congregation, faced with debts arising from a disappointing return on their former property, put their Overton Road campus up for sale. Birmingham Jewish Federation president Jimmy Filler contacted Fred and Brenda Friedman about the possibility of helping the congregation remain in place. The result was the establishment of the 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.



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