Synagogue Emanu-El, Charleston’s only Conservative Jewish congregation, was founded in 1947 by a group of 73 charter members, most former congregants of Brith Sholom. Friday night services were held initially in a church at Fort Moultrie on Sullivan’s Island. The congregation celebrated its first High Holidays in Charleston at the Jewish Community Center on St. Philip Street under the spiritual leadership of Rabbi Lewis A. Weintraub and Cantor Jacob Renzer. By the end of the year, members had rebuilt a former U.S. Army chapel, contributed by the family of Matthew “Mattie” Steinberg, on a large lot on Gordon Street, purchased by Macey Kronsberg acting in his capacity as president of Synagogue Emanu-El.
Gordon Street was in the northwest section of the city, whose suburban character attracted many Jewish families from downtown. In 1949, the synagogue founded a kindergarten which, along with the Hebrew school, was managed and funded by the Sisterhood. By the early 1950s, recognizing that the congregation had outgrown its quarters, congregants formed a fundraising committee to erect a new synagogue on the Gordon Street property. In 1955, Synagogue Emanu-El moved into a spacious sanctuary built to accommodate 600 worshipers. Later that year, the old chapel was refitted as the Esther Dumas Memorial Building and a room in the new synagogue was designated the Kronsberg Library.
In 1977, the Gordon Street property was sold, and the congregation met temporarily at the new JCC west of the Ashley, using the Gaillard Municipal Auditorium for High Holidays and Kahal Kadosh Beth Elohim’s temple for events such as bar and bat mitzvahs. In 1978, members broke ground for a new synagogue on Windsor Drive in West Ashley. The construction was completed in 1979, and the congregation began holding services in a modern sanctuary designed by Atlanta architect Benjamin Hirsch. In September 1989, Hurricane Hugo struck Charleston, damaging the roof of the synagogue and downing 179 trees on the property. In 2008, Emanu-El underwent renovations, including the construction of a new lobby, lit through a wall of stained glass, and the reorganization of offices and library space.