Congregation Raim Ahuvim

The Austro-Hungarian Chevra in Philadelphia
Founded 1892





CONGREGATION RAIM AHUVIM was founded in 1892 in the Society Hill section of Philadelphia.


The founding members listed on the charter (which is displayed in the current shul) were recent immigrants who most likely shared a place of origin in the Austro-Hungarian Empire. This would explain why the new shul called itself the "Austro-Hungarian Congregation Raim Ahivim." The fact that "Ahivim" was written with an "i" instead of the more commonly used transliteration of the Hebrew, "u", actually confirms that Hungarian Yiddish was spoken in their area of origin. In addition, with the exception of the vice-president, a Mr. Cohen, all names in the charter are German.


By 1895, about 30,000 Jews lived in South Philadelphia, most of them along the River wards south of Spruce Street. This neighborhood was sometimes called Philadelphia's "Lower East Side." The majority of these immigrants came from Russia and the Ukraine. By this time, no fewer than 45 synagogues of various fraternal landsmannschaften had sprung up in Society Hill and South Philadelphia.



At its founding, Congregation Raim Ahuvim was located at Bainbridge and Third Streets. It likely went through several incarnations in this area as a result of its members' economic success. Its last South Philadelphia address was at Gaskill and Fifth Streets. It is interesting to note that the first president of the shul, Samuel Kops, lived in Camden, New Jersey. To daven in his shul on Shabbos, he had to cross the Benjamin Franklin Bridge over the Delaware River.


Until today, Congregation Raim Ahuvim never has had a paid Rabbi; all Rabbis have been learned men who volunteered their services. This fact blends in with the tradition of the shul having been founded by a chevrah that banded together not only for the sake of "worshipping the Almighty G-d" but also "for beneficial purposes to its members in case of distress, sickness and death," as declared in its charter. The name "Raim Ahuvim," translated as "Loving Friends," reflects this social purpose perfectly. The name is also an obvious allusion to the city of Philadelphia ("City of Brotherly Love"). In the spirit of mutual care, the chevrah purchased an allotment of burial plots in the cemetery of Sharon Hill soon after its founding.


In the late 1920s, as the need for a mutual-support chevrah waned and many congregants eagerly fled the area in favor of better economic opportunities, Raim Ahuvim moved to West Philadelphia and attracted new members with diverse backgrounds from various European countries of origin. When this neighborhood underwent demographic changes during the 1950s, the congregation relocated to Wynnefield, a thriving Jewish neighborhood at that time. Raim Ahuvim continues to serve the Jews of Philadelphia today.


Thanks to Hamodia’s Sukkot Shul Supplement 2011 for permission to reprint this article.




Historical Photos








Laying the Foundation. Article in Hamodia Magazine, Sukkot Supplement 2011





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