History and Tradition section
Our Notable People

Men and Women of Mikveh Israel

The men and women of Mikveh Israel played an important role in our history of religious freedom. They pioneered in the creation of fundamental institutions of American Jewry; their charitable and educational projects were directed to the needs of women and children. While they participated in American cultural, political and economic activities, they proudly maintained their devotion to their Jewish commitments.

Reverend Jacob Raphael Cohen (1738-1811)

Hazan (Reader) of Mikveh Israel from 1784 until his death. His record of marriages, deaths, circumcisions is an important source of data on early American Jewish ritual and history. In a celebration of Pennsylvania 's ratification of the U.S. Constitution, on July 4, 1788, he walked arm-in-arm with two ministers, one of whom was Reverend William White of Christ Church, dean of the clergy of Philadelphia.

Haym Salomon (1740-1785)

Patriot and financier. As broker for Robert Morris, director of the Office of Finance, he sold coins, bills and notes to provide crucial financial aid to the government. Provided personal loans to government leaders. Member of a synagogue delegation protesting Pennsylvania's religious test oath. Treasurer of the Society for the Relief of Destitute Strangers (Ezrath Orechim). Largest contributor to the 1782 building, he donated one-third its cost.

Rebecca Machado Phillips (1746-1831)

Wife of Jonas Phillips, a patriot, merchant, parnas /president 1782-1783. Approximately 16 of their 21 children survived to adulthood. In 1801, at age 55, Rebecca was one of the founding members of the Female Association for Relief of Women and Children in Reduced Circumstances, a nonsectarian organization. In 1819, at age 74, she was director of the Female Benevolent Society, the first Jewish charity in America unaffiliated to a synagogue.

Rebecca Gratz (1791-1869)

From the prominent family of patriots, religious, civic and cultural leaders. With her peers, Rebecca founded and managed philanthropic and educational institutions devoted to the needs of women and children, Jewish and Gentile. Reputed to be the model for Rebecca of York, heroine of Ivanhoe by Sir Walter Scott.

Rev. Isaac Leeser (1806-1868)

Hazan of Mikveh Israel 1829-1850. Tied to the inception of nearly every Jewish charitable and educational institution. With Rebecca Gratz and her associates, he founded the first Jewish Sunday School which developed into the Hebrew Sunday School Society of Philadelphia. Published and edited The Occident and American Jewish Advocate which he edited for twenty-five years. Provided textbooks and catechisms for adults and children. Made a masterly translation of the Bible. Also compiled prayer books for both Sephardic and Ashkenazic communities. Moving spirit in the organization of the Hebrew Education Society of Philadelphia.

Moses Aaron Dropsie (1821-1905)

Businessman and lawyer. Strongly opposed to slavery, he was among the organizers of the Republican Party in Pennsylvania in 1856. President of several railways, he developed Philadelphia trolleys and bridges. A founder and president of the Hebrew Education Society and Gratz College. Endowed the Dropsie College of Hebrew and Cognate Learning, nonsectarian with no distinction for sex or color. Today it is the Center for Advanced Judaic Studies, part of the University of Pennsylvania.

Rev. Sabato Morais (1823-1897)

Hazan of Mikveh Israel 1851-1897, noted for his anti-slavery sermons. Involved in the education of children and adults, he worked for the Hebrew Sunday School Society, the Hebrew Education Society and the Young Men's Hebrew Association (YMHA). A founder and first president of the Jewish Theological Seminary and professor of Bible there. He worked in behalf of Russian immigrants, settling disagreements between workers and employers.

Judge Mayer Sulzberger (1843-1923)

Eminent jurist. Lectured and wrote widely on subjects of Jewish interest. Collected one of largest libraries of Hebrew books in the US. Organizer and first president of the American Jewish Committee. A founder of the Jewish Publication Society. First president of the YMHA. Vice president of the Philadelphia Jewish Hospital and Jefferson Medical College.

Louis Edward Levy (1846-1919)

Chemist, inventor, newspaper editor, community leader. Invented the "Levytype" photochemical engraving process, the Levy acid blast and the Levy line screen, all notable advances in newspaper technology. Published and edited the Philadelphia Evening Herald, the Sunday Mercury and the Jewish Year. With Moses Aaron Dropsie, founded the Association for the Protection of Jewish Immigrants, now HIAS (Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society).

Mary M. Cohen (1854-1911)

Poet, author, educator, prolific contributor to local newspapers. Published many literary works. Involved in local art and literary societies together with her sister, Katherine M. Cohen, noted painter and sculptor. Superintendent of the Mikveh Israel religious school. President of the Hebrew Sunday School Society. Corresponding secretary to the Jewish Publication Society. Among the founders of the National Council of Jewish Women.

Dr. Solomon Solis Cohen (1857-1948)

Physician, communal leader, poet. A founder and trustee of the Jewish Theological Seminary. Helped found the current Jewish Publication Society and the YMHA. Active in the organization of Gratz College. One of the earliest Zionists in the U.S. Probed the treatment and causes of tuberculosis. A prolific writer in medicine. Translated Hebrew poets of the Middle Ages.

Cyrus Adler (1863-1940)

President of Mikveh Israel 1911-1916. Scholar. Educator. Librarian and assistant secretary of the Smithsonian Institution. President of the Board of Trustees of the Free Library of Philadelphia. Member of the Philadelphia School Board. President of Dropsie College. President of the Jewish Theological Seminary. A founder and president of the American Jewish Historical Society. A founder of the American Jewish Committee. Active in the Jewish Publication Society. He and other members of the Philadelphia Group worked together to form the organizational patterns of 20th century American Jewry.

Rev. Mr. Leon Haim Elmaleh (1873-1972)

Hazan of Congregation Mikveh Israel, 1898-1929. Reverend Emeritus until his death. The founder of the Levantine Jews Society of Philadelphia which looked after immigrants from the Ottoman Empire. A founder of Philadelphia Board of Rabbis. His library contained more than 5,000 volumes dating from 1683.

history collage