The History of Gomley Chesed Congregation
Gomley Chesed Congregation was founded by eastern European immigrants who came to America like so many
others in the late nineteenth century, seeking freedom and better economic opportunities. Our congregation was
first organized in Portsmouth, Virginia with fewer than 20 families in 1886 under the name “Chevra Gomley Chesed”.
The first services were conducted at various locations in downtown Portsmouth—private homes, above a storefront,
even in a Fire Engine House. As our membership grew, a permanent building was purchased on County Street
By the turn of the century, Gomley Chesed had establishing a thriving Jewish community in Portsmouth. The
Chevra Kadisha and Chesed Shel Emes Societies were organized in 1894 to prepare the deceased for proper burial
and offer aid to wayfarers passing through the city. Gomley Chesed established a Jewish cemetery in 1895. In 1899,
the first Hebrew School in Portsmouth was organized and met in a building on Washington Street.
The Hebrew Ladies Aid Society was organized in 1900 to assist poor families.
In 1918, Gomley Chesed opened a community center on County Street near the synagogue. It was used for religious
school classes, youth activities, synagogue meetings, lectures, and receptions. During World War II, the center was
opened to the Jewish Welfare Board and the U.S.O. to benefit Jewish members of the military services. In the years
after the war, Gomley Chesed's congregation began to shift from Orthodox to Conservative. By 1949, the synagogue
permitted men and women to sit together during services and girls were offered the same religious education as boys.
By the early 1950s, the Portsmouth Jewish community was moving to the suburbs, so our synagogue reluctantly bid
farewell to its downtown home of nearly 70 years for a new beginning in the Sterling Point neighborhood of Churchland.
In 1954, Gomley Chesed broke ground for a brand-new building in this young Portsmouth suburb, where it remains to
this day. The new contemporary-styled building featured a spacious main sanctuary, social hall, kitchen, and a chapel
for daily minyan services. The new facilities were superbly equipped for the needs of the Congregation, boasting
numerous large classrooms, offices, meeting rooms, kitchen, and a spacious gift shop.
As we enter the 21 st century, Gomley Chesed continues its commitment to the ideals of Conservative Judaism. Our
membership remains active under the leadership of Rabbi David L. Goldstein, with morning minyans and
Shabbat services each Friday night and Saturday morning. We have a sponsored breakfast every Sunday morning after the service. Sisterhood and the Men's Club are active in a wide variety of programs to benefit our synagogue, the Portsmouth Jewish population,
and the entire local community.
Gomley Chesed still includes many of the same devoted members who moved the congregation to Churchland from
downtown, bringing a wealth of tradition and history. At the same time, our synagogue is perfectly positioned to
welcome the new generation of Jewish families that come with the rapid growth of the Western Branch in Chesapeake
and the northern Suffolk communities. These are exciting times and Gomley Chesed Congregation looks forward to
a new century brimming with youthful energy and new ideas for Conservative Judaism in the greater Portsmouth area.