KI began unofficially in 1883 when a group of Allentown Jewish merchants formed the “Young Ladies and Men’s Hebrew Society.” In 1903 the synagogue was incorporated, and fundraising began for the purchase of land and eventual construction of a building.
Sisterhood officially began in 1906, KI affiliated with the Reform movement in 1909 and graduated the first Confirmation class in 1919. By the early 1920’s the Hebrew school was flourishing and had expanded to a number of different locations in order to accommodate the enrollment. The first B’Nai Mitzvah class, however, did not take place until 1923 and the first graduates of a high school were not until 1940.
1939 saw the beginning of a Youth Group and 1940 was the founding year for Brotherhood. By the early 50’s membership had expanded well beyond the ability of the facility and fundraising began, resulting in a new building at the current location in 1955. It met the needs of the membership until 1988 when there was a significant expansion, resulting in the multi-purpose room, upgrades and renovation to the sanctuary, extra space for the social hall and a number of infrastructure improvements.
In 1994, the congregation adopted the following goals (paraphrased):
- Provide worship experiences that create a sense of spiritual fulfillment.
- Provide an exciting, stimulating atmosphere for Jewish learning.
- Develop congregational programming to meet the diverse needs of our membership.
- Develop KI as a caring community where members feel the supportive nature of the congregation.
- Develop and maintain an infrastructure that supports effective leadership.
Maximize effective communication.
- Maintain financial viability through affordable dues, fundraising, planned giving and cost-containment.
- Maintain an attractive facility that continues to serve the needs of the congregation.
KI through the years has especially been known for educational programs, youth involvement, music, social action, multi-generational family members and interfaith relations and study. These are the traditions that continue to shape Keneseth Israel today.