Gates of Heaven

The first Jews who settled in Schenectady, primarily peddlers, tailors, and minor merchants in clothing, liquor, and groceries, organized a congregation in 1854. The congregation formally incorporated on October 20, 1856 as Sharei Shomajim. Initially, the members came from Germany, and lived in the area near Union, Liberty, College, Front, and Ferry streets. The establishment of the first congregation in Schenectady paralleled the organization of synagogues in Albany, Troy, and other parts of upstate New York. Members of this “Israelitish Church” used German, Yiddish, and Hebrew and prayed according to Orthodox German ritual, probably similar to Beth El in Albany. At first, members met in homes but began to meet in a building on 6 Liberty Street and later 206 Liberty Street. In 1859, the congregation became one of the founding members of the first national Jewish body, Board of Delegates of American Israelites. By 1865, it acquired a new building on 7-9 Ferry Street. Most accounts suggest that it was the only congregation in Schenectady until the late 1880s, but a report in 1910 suggested it may have merged with another congregation on Ferry Street.
In 1891 the congregation began work on a new building on College Street where the synagogue remained from 1892 to 1920. Members of Gates of Heaven established the first Jewish cemetery in 1857, and by the late 19th Century, the first Jewish associations, not directly connected to a synagogue, actually consisted of members from the congregation. By this point, the Gentile community called the congregation the College Street temple or synagogue. Between 1890-1907 the congregation altered its religious ritual formally joining the Reform body, Union of American Hebrew Congregations in 1907. The growth of the congregation and the movement of its members led to plans to move the synagogue to what the press called the upper part of the city in 1910. However, it took a decade before the congregation purchased a church on Rugby Road and Parkwood Boulevard, converted into a synagogue and moved to its new structure in 1920. The College Street building opened as a Catholic Church in 1922. Reflecting the suburbanization of the Jewish community after World War II, Gates of Heaven relocated to present location on Eastern Parkway and Ashmore Ave in 1956.

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