Temple Mishkan Israel

Temple Mishkan Israel is a two-story Romanesque Revival building with two symmetrical towers and a raised octagonal roofed sanctuary in historic Selma, Alabama. Selma Jews established Congregation Mishkan Israel in 1870. They conducted services at private residences. Soon after founding, the congregation affiliated with the Union of American Hebrew Congregations, the national organization for Reform Judaism. After renting an Episcopal church for 16 years, the congregation acquired a parsonage and schoolhouse on Broad Street. They decided to build a permanent temple on the site. Construction was completed in December of 1899 and Temple Mishkan Israel was dedicated the following February.

The temple is a contributing structure to Selma’s “Old Town Historic District” that is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Jews were among the early settlers of Selma and were vital to the economic growth of the city. Throughout the 19th century and most of the 20th century, downtown Selma was predominantly Jewish merchants including Teppers, Kaysers, Liepolds, Rothchilds, Adler Furniture, Benish and Meyer Tobacco, Siegel Automotive Company, Barton’s Bargain Store, Bendersky’s and Eagles. They were also strongly represented in local government and city activities. Three Selma mayors were Jewish and members of the congregation at Mishkan Israel.

These Torah scrolls were scribed in 1841 by Baer Aberndolfer from Bretagne France and were brought to America by Menaham, Son of Josef Meir.
The sanctuary inside of Temple Mishkan Israel has no air conditioning. The building still has the original knob and tube wiring along with the original slate roof, both of which need replacing.
Today, only special services are held at the Mishkan Israel Temple.

From 1910 to 1930, the congregation consisted of 80 members. Its membership peaked at 104 households in 1940. Since then, the congregation has slowly dwindled. There is an ongoing effort to preserve Temple Mishkan Israel and perhaps create a museum honoring Selma’s Jewish heritage. If you would like to contribute, you can do so here.

In the congregation’s early decades, they were able to support a full-time rabbi, even though their membership was relatively small. Lothar Lubasch, the temple’s last rabbi, died in 1976.
The temple’s pipe organ was purchased secondhand several decades after the building was dedicated. The pipes pictured above are for ornamentation, the functioning pipes are hidden behind them.
Today, the temple is used periodically for special gatherings. The remaining congregation members would like to see the temple transformed into a museum.

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