Owensboro home to longest-running synagogue in KY

The Temple Adath Israel is a gorgeous structure that serves Owensboro’s Jewish community, and it’s also one of the most historic sites in the entire state of Kentucky. Constructed in 1877, the synagogue of Temple Adath Israel is one of the oldest American synagogues in use today. It is the 13th longest-running synagogue in the entire country, and holds the No. 1 spot for oldest synagogue still being used in the entire state. 

“It’s been there since the late 1800s,” said local Lay leader Stuart Spindel. “So we’ve been in there for 140 years.” 

The synagogue, located at Fifth and Daviess streets in downtown Owensboro, is also listed on the National Register of Historic Places, providing sanctuary for generations of Jewish families and housing the light of Torah for the entire community.

The historical relevance of Adath Israel goes back to 1858, when it was established as one of Kentucky’s earliest Jewish congregations and a charter member of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations. Adath Israel’s founders were mostly immigrants from the German states of central Europe.

When Owensboro’s Jewish community reached over 200 members, a house of worship was erected and, to this day, there it stands.

According to Spindel, the Temple was in some ways built similarly to other houses of worship, but there were distinctive features that made it stand out.  Moorish domes that graced the top of the building “evoke the Near Eastern origins of Judaism and also bring to mind the medieval ‘golden age’ in Spain.” 

For those first several decades, the Jewish community in Owensboro thrived.

At the beginning of the 20th century, the community supported not only a rabbi but also a synagogue school with four classes, a Jewish social club and a chapter of B’nai B’rith.

As the years progressed, however, the Owensboro Jewish community went into decline, with the Temple citing better opportunities (both educationally and professionally) elsewhere that led to more and more young adults leaving. After World War II, the Temple writes, shopping malls, expressways and chain stores led heavily to the demise of the downtown businesses the Jewish community had leaned on economically.

However, there are still families of the Jewish faith that call Owensboro home, and those who belong to the Temple Adath Israel congregation are very open and welcoming of visitors and newcomers. Every Thursday night at 6:30, a Torah, or Bible Study, is held, and Spindel said he encounters visitors and locals from a variety of different backgrounds and religious beliefs. 

“It would be correct to assume that everyone who visits is more than welcome,” Spindel said. “The first Friday evening of the month is a simple Shabbat service. “More than half of the people who come aren’t Jewish, and that’s OK. Everyone is welcome.”