First Synagogue Recognized in Lower Manhattan

On April 8, South William Street between Mill Lane and Broad Street also became known as “Mill Street Synagogue/Seixas Way” in honor of the first synagogue in the country, reports Matthew Fenton for The Broadsheet.

While scholars have long acknowledged and documented the significance of the Mill Street synagogue, there has been no marker to recognize its place in history. That began to change in 2018, when the Lower Manhattan Historical Association embarked on a campaign to co-name a stretch of South William Street as “Mill Street Synagogue/Seixas Way.”

James Kaplan, president and chairman of the Lower Manhattan Historical Association noted that, “at this spot in 1730, 289 years ago today, with the support of Jewish congregations from around the world the nascent Jewish community of New York City dedicated the first synagogue in North America.”

Fenton writes that the congregation had roots in Spain and Portugal, where Jewish people were forced to convert to Christianity or leave. Thousands fled to the New World and eventually a congregation formed in 1654 and called itself Shearith Israel (“remnant of Israel”), also known informally as the “Spanish and Portuguese Synagogue.” They worshipped in the loft of a grist grill on what is now Broad Street. Starting in 1730, the congregation built the Mill Street Synagogue.

Go to The Broadsheet to find out where in Manhattan Shearith Israel is located today and read much more on Jewish history in New York and Gershom Mendes Seixas, known as the “patriot rabbi.”

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