The Newtown Jewish Community began with the immigration of several Russian Jewish families. Orthodox immigrants fleeing poverty and persecution in Eastern Europe were encouraged to become farmers in Connecticut. One sponsor of this program was the Jewish Agricultural and Industrial Aid Society, which was a subsidiary of the Baron de Hirsch Fund. Beginning in 1891, Baron Maurice de Hirsch, a Jewish German philanthropist, helped finance several of the immigrant communities in Connecticut and throughout the world.
One of the first to settle in the area was Israel Nezvesky (1839 – 1925). Israel settled in Newtown around 1906 and later became a leader in the community. Other Jewish farmers followed, purchasing land and building a thriving Jewish community in the area around Huntingtown Road, giving the neighborhood the nickname of ‘Little Palestine’. The families worshipped for several years without a synagogue or rabbi.
On July 4, 1914, ground was broken for the synagogue on land donated by Israel & Rose Nezvesky. The synagogue was built by: Isaac Busker, Louis Busker, Max Busker, David Epstein, Harry Garder, Jacob Goldberg, Sam Goldberg, Isaac Goldstein, Alex Goosman, Jacob Goosman, Sam (Shia) Goosman, Isador Kaufman, Sam Nalven, Abraham Nezvesky, Israel Nezvesky, Jacob Nezvesky, Benjamin Rosenberg, Max Schimelman, Harry Schopick, Samuel Sussman.
In 1919, the cornerstone was laid for the new building. In gratitude to Israel Nezvesky, who donated the land and who also purchased the first Torah, the synagogue was named Adath Israel, meaning House of Israel, in his honor. Adath Israel is the only known country synagogue in western Connecticut to have benefited from the programs of the Baron de Hirsch Fund.
In 1920, Adath Israel opened its doors to serve this small farming community. There was no heat or water. The building was warmed by a pot-belly stove.
The first religious leader arrived in 1923. He was an Orthodox Rabbi named Samuel Steinfeld. The first President of the synagogue was Isadore Kaufman.
After World War II, many younger congregants left what was still a rural Newtown for jobs in large cities. While the remaining members were devout and observed holy days and the Sabbath faithfully, total membership started to decline.
The synagogue was renovated in 1957. The building was raised to include a basement with kitchen facilities, social hall/classroom space and a bathroom. This was the first time the building had heat and water.
By the early 60’s, the congregation consisted of less than 20 families. It became clear that Adath Israel would not survive as an Orthodox institution.
In 1968, the congregation saw a reorganization: over 100 people attended a brunch at the synagogue and indicated their interest in reorganizing and changing from an Orthodox to a modern Conservative doctrine.
In 1979, the congregation hired Rabbi Jeffrey T. Segalman as their part time rabbi. The congregation voted to allow women to participate in worship services.
The building was expanded again to include a rabbi’s study and another classroom space on the main floor.
Adath Israel’s membership grew along with the realization that they were outgrowing their building. High Holiday services were crowded with standing room only. Children’s services were held in a tent outside and Sunday school classes had to be divided into 2 sections, one from 8 to 10 and the other from 9:30 to 11:45. This made it very inconvenient for families with several children. Unable to expand the original building, options were looked into, plans were drawn up and fundraising efforts including a capital campaign to raise money for the new building began.
On Sunday April 10, 2005 ground was broken for our new Adath Israel building, two building lots away from the original Adath Israel. This land was also donated by the Nezvesky Family. Descendants of the original farmers participated in the groundbreaking ceremony, many of whom are still members today.
On Friday, September 7, 2007, we opened our new building to meet the demands of our growing congregation. The building was dedicated with great joy as we paraded the Torahs down the street to their new home. The building opened just in time for the High Holidays.