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Former West Philadelphia Jewish Community Center Being Demolished

February 7, 2014 By:
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A frontal view of the West Philadelphia Jewish Community Center at the corner of 63rd and Ludlow Streets. Photo by Greg Salisbury.

The former West Philadelphia Jewish Community Center building at the corner of 63rd and Ludlow Streets is in the process of being torn down as part of a new development program occurring in the neighborhood.

In A Guidebook to Jewish Philadelphia, by Esther M. Klein, the West Philadelphia center was referred to as “a bulwark of Conservative Judaism” that at one time had a congregation of 500 families.

“It had a vast Hebrew School and a community center with extensive facilities for sports,” Klein wrote in the guidebook, which was published in 1965 by the Philadelphia Jewish Times Institute.

Built in 1927, the center was a gathering point for the vibrant Jewish community that called West Philadelphia home in the first half of the 20th century.

Former West Philadelphia resident Leona Jaffe, 91, said her childhood revolved around the center.

"I went to Hebrew school there, I was confirmed there, I was married there," she said. "I loved it."

She cited strong community ties as the ingredient that made the center so special.

"We knew everybody there," she said. "For me it was home, it was a wonderful place."

In 1960, no longer able to sustain itself in the face of white flight across City Line Avenue, the center merged with Temple Beth Hillel in Wynnewood, then under the guidance of Rabbi Marshall J. Maltzman.

Jaffe recalled that initially the congregation met in a greenhouse before the current building was ready.

Ten years later, in 1970, Temple Beth Hillel merged with Temple Beth El — also originally of West Philadelphia — to become Temple Beth Hillel-Beth El and remains today in the same Wynnewood location.

Rabbi Barry Blum of Congregation Beth El - Ner Tamid in Broomall remembered attending High Holiday services during the center's final year of existence.

“Many Jews in the Philadelphia region attended service in the synagogue,” Blum said, “It’s one of my first childhood memories of a synagogue.”

Most recently, the building served as the home of City of Conquerors Church, an offshoot of We Are More Than Conquerors Ministries. The church operated between 2003—2010, but there is no evidence it is in operation at this time; phone calls to its last listed number were sent to St. Matthew's Church at 57th and Race Streets in West Philadelphia. The person who answered the phone at St. Matthew's said the church had no affiliation with either entity. According to the City of Conquerors Church, the building had been vacant for over 10 years before they moved in, in 2003, and was in a state of vast disrepair.

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