Mikveh Israel, "The Hope of Israel," is Philadelphia's oldest Jewish Congregation, which began in the 1740s with worship services in a private home in Sterling Alley. The community then purchased a parcel of land from Thomas Penn for a Jewish cemetery, still located on Spruce Street. In 1782, Mikveh Israel constructed its first building on Cherry Street between Third and Fourth.
The Synagogue remained in Old City until 1909, when it moved to a site on North Broad Street shared with Gratz College and Dropsie University, both of which had been founded and endowed by congregants of Mikveh Israel. In 1976, America's Bicentennial, Mikveh Israel returned to this site on Independence Mall near its original location.
Mikveh Israel's two-fold tradition synthesizes the Spanish-Portuguese (Sephardic) Jewish ritual with the ongoing development of the American Jewish Community. Past members include great statesmen, jurists, educators, scientists, and patriots. The Congregation and its members have founded institutions of learning, the arts and philanthropy, including Gratz College, the first Hebrew teachers' college in the Western Hemisphere.
Among the most revered members are: Haym Solomon, financier of the Revolutionary War; Nathan Levy, whose ship the Myrtilla brought the Liberty Bell to this country; and Rebecca Gratz, philanthropist and founder of the Hebrew Sunday School society. Dr. Cyrus Adler and Judge Mayer Sulzberger helped found the American Jewish Committee, the Jewish Publication Society of America and the Jewish Welfare Board. Isaac Leeser, minister from 1829 to 1850, revolutionized American Jewry by translating the Bible into English, publishing the first Hebrew/English prayer book in America, and introducing the English sermon into the American Synagogue. Leeser's successor, Sabato Morais, was co-founder and first president of the Jewish Theological Seminary.
Mikveh Israel's service has remained virtually unchanged since its beginnings, and is conducted entirely in Hebrew, except for the sermon and the prayer for the government.
Also on the site is the National Museum of American Jewish History.