Kesher Israel Congregation was first organized in 1914 by a handful of Jews living in West Chester. Most of these founders were local merchants. They first met in homes, then in a house purchased by members of the congregation and converted into a synagogue.
In 1925, the congregation built a synagogue at 206 N. Church Street in West Chester. This was a stone building and was built similar to the synagogues in the great cities in Europe. Originally an orthodox congregation, the men and women sat separately. For many years, the Rabbis' sermons would be done in English, then later in the morning, in Yiddish. Over the years, Kesher Israel changed and became affiliated with the Conservative movement in the late 1980's.
As the population of the area grew rapidly in the 80's, the congregation outgrew the Church Street building. In 1988 Kesher Israel moved to its current site. The sanctuary was designed in the pattern of the traditional synagogues of Eastern Europe with a central bimah placed in traditional Ashkenazic style amongst the congregants with the aron kodesh in front.
As the Jewish population in Chester County and the membership of KI continued to grow, discussion for plans for expanding our facility began to occur. After two years of planning by many volunteer members of the congregation, and a successful capital campaign, groundbreaking for our building expansion came to fruition in June, 2000. Our new Oscar Lasko Center for Jewish Education and expanded facilities were completed in 2001. Two additions, a 3 story classroom wing and an enlarged social hall, were added on to the original building, more than doubling our square footage to over 36,000 sq ft. In addition almost the entire original structure was renovated and made handicapped accessible.
Currently our building is comprised of a Sanctuary/Social Hall/kitchen section, including meeting rooms and a Chapel. This area connects to the offices, library, and gift shop section which in turn connects to a three story classroom wing, including a walk-in basement. The first floor of the school wing is occupied by our Preschool and Kindergarten. The 2nd floor is used by the Religious/Hebrew school. The basement is shared by the Preschool/Religious school with a separate Youth Lounge, kitchen area and rest rooms for our USY and Kadima groups. All additions were integrated by the architect into the original structure in such a manner that is difficult to tell which areas are new and which areas are part of the original structure.
Our buildings, 1914,1924,1988, and 2001 are only the envelopes of our community --it is the community which continues to grow in its exploration of Jewish learning, in caring for each other, and in setting examples for our children. Kesher Israel is proud that it has always had a strong foundation and a respect for the traditions of the past while addressing the needs and changes in our congregation. This is the heart of Kesher Israel and it will continue to be for generations to come.