Local Jewish Life

West Chester, Pennsylvania, is a lovely, bucolic town with stately 19th century Greco- Roman style buildings and a thriving retail district. Although there was a transient Jewish population among the volunteers in Washington’s army, and Jewish merchants traveled through the region, the first confirmed Jewish settlers in the West Chester area arrived in the middle of the 19th century as peddlers and merchants. Descendants of those families remain in the area. West Chester began to get its share of the Jewish flood from Eastern Europe by the 1890s; over 100 thousand Jews settled in Pennsylvania between 1889 and 1910.

The Jewish community in the West Chester region formed Kesher Israel Congregation in 1914, a Conservative congregation. Growth required the synagogue to move to larger quarters just outside the town in 1989. The broader region currently supports Beth Chaim, a Reform congregation; Makom Kadosh, the Jewish Fellowship of Chester County; a few Chabad centers; and the county hosts two other Conservative congregations (Congregation B'nai Jacob and Beth Israel Congregation) at some distance from WCU.

West Chester is 30 miles west of Philadelphia, and much of the recent influx of Jews to the West Chester area has come from Philadelphia and its ring suburbs. The Borough of West Chester and the surrounding areas are attractive to Jews and others because of high-quality public schools, good property values, diverse industrial and economic bases, and genuinely attractive countryside with ample recreational opportunities. West Chester does not have a dense Jewish population with accompanying cultural and religious infrastructure for Jewish living; large portions of Chester County remain rural.

West Chester University has a Hillel, established in the 1970s, ranked 'Small and Mighty.' Students also participate in local congregations and in academic courses and programs which expand their knowledge of Judaism and Jewish history, thought, philosophy, and literature.

Back to top of page.