The earliest Jewish settlers came to Selma prior to the Civil War, some as early as the 1830's. A group of Jewish citizens assembled as the Mishkan Israel Congregation and began meeting in private homes in 1867. The congregation was formally organized on July 10, 1870. In June of 1899, ground was broken for the temple, and the building was completed on December 20, 1899, Members of Mishkan Israel's congregation were vital to the early economic growth of the city. Many of the stores and businesses that lined the streets of downtown Selma were once owned and operated by members of the Jewish community.
Three Selma mayors, Simon Mass (1887-1889), Marcus Meyer (1895-1899), and Louis Banish (1915-1920) were members of this congregation, as were United States Congressman William Lehman and Assistant Secretary of Defense Marx Leva. Strongly represented in local government and city activities, members of the congregation have served as Water Commissioner, City Attorney, and on the City Council and Selma School Board. Temple Mishkan Israel endures as a monument to those and other Jewish citizens who have contributed to Selma's civic, economic and spiritual well being.