Resurrection: Shearith Israel Synagogue finds a new home in an old church

lgierer@ledger-enquirer.comNovember 22, 2013 

The "For Sale" sign had not yet been put into the ground. It was leaning against the wall of the side of the former River Chapel Primitive Baptist Church when Michael Goldman was made aware the building was available.

The sign would never be used.

Goldman is president of Shearith Israel Synagogue in Columbus and had been searching for a new home for the conservative Jewish congregation.

He said the brick structure at the intersection of Mountainbrook Drive and River Road was just the right fit and the purchase of the building in October is a sign of the synagogue's growth.

Renovation work is being done, and the first service is expected to be Nov. 30 with a formal dedication coming in February or March.

The building is in prime condition and has not been used for services for a few years.

Retired Elder Carlton Kirby said he was thrilled the place could be sold to another religious organization rather than some other kind of business.

"We feel good that it will be used as a place to worship the Lord," said Kirby.

Goldman said the seller told him God had brought them together.

Shearith Israel was chartered in 1891.

In the beginning, there were about 15 Jewish families of Eastern European origin who met in several different downtown buildings belonging to Jewish merchants.

The group purchased land at the intersection of Seventh Street and First Avenue in Columbus for its first official meeting place.

Outgrowing that, in 1951 the congregation moved into a building it had constructed on Wynnton Road.

There, the congregation grew to about 250 families.

But times have changed, and Goldman said the congregation is now about 70 families.

In March 2009, Shearith Israel sold the Wynnton Road location to its neighbor New Testament Christian Center Church.

"It had just gotten too big for us," said Shearith Israel board member Michael Silverstein.

"We were not even using the third floor," Goldman said.

Financially, it was a hardship.

"It just didn't make sense for us to stay," Goldman said.

While that building was 14,000 square feet on four acres of land, the new building is 4,500 square feet on 2.5 acres.

The congregation has made use of the chapel at Temple Israel. Currently, the congregation meets in a house on 16th Street but has used places such as Columbus State Univer

sity's Cunningham Center and The Springer Opera House for bigger events, such as High Holy Day services.

"Many of our members live in this side of the city," Goldman said about the convenience of the establishment. There will be no need to get new pews or chairs, and there is a kitchen.

Silverstein said the vote to get the new building was unanimous.

"The place we're meeting was too small, and we didn't want to turn people away," Silverstein said.

The congregation has seen a bit of a resurgence under Rabbi Brian Glusman, who travels from Atlanta to Columbus each weekend to conduct a service.

He alternates between conducting services on Friday night and Saturday morning.

"He is dynamic and has engaged people at all levels," Goldman said.

"The community had written Shearith Israel off but I saw tremendous potential," Glusman said. "It is small but still alive and vibrant."

He said while the house provided an intimacy and sense of belonging, the growth left little choice but to move.

"There is a sense of excitement about this new spiritual home," he said. "We are about more than worship we are about creating great spiritual experiences. The new place allows for more community engagement and will allow the synagogue to host larger events.

The holy ark dating back to the late 1800s will be reassembled in the synagogue.

Some stained glass from the Wynnton Road location has already been put in place where it can be seen from the outside.

A.J. Kravtin is the oldest living member of Shearith Israel. His family belonged to the synagogue when Kravtin was born in 1922.

The retired physician is excited about what he sees happening.

"Moving into this beautiful building is very significant," Kravtin said. "We were on life support. It is a resurrection."

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