Columbus’ Shearith Israel moving into new home

In the middle of Chanukah, Shearith Israel Synagogue in Columbus, Ga., was preparing to do its own rededication.

On Nov. 30, the congregation plans to light the eternal light and hang mezuzahs on its new home, the former River Chapel Primitive Baptist Church, which the congregation purchased on Oct. 17. Shabbat services will begin there on Dec. 6, and a formal dedication will be held in February.

The congregation had sold its previous building on Wynnton Road to New Testament Christian Center Church in 2009. The old building was far too large for a congregation that had 250 members at its peak but was down to fewer than 70, and the old building was not accessible for older members.

The Conservative congregation, which was founded in 1892, met briefly at Reform Temple Israel’s chapel, then remodeled their parsonage into a small synagogue.

Rabbi Brian Glusman of Atlanta, former rabbi of Birmingham’s Temple Beth-El, visits the congregation every Shabbat.

Getting the new building, he said, “is a very important step for the congregation. It was disappointing and sad when the previous synagogue building was sold to a church.”

He added, “Many thought it was the end of Shearith Israel.”

With Glusman, the congregation has reversed its downward trend and “we outgrew the house.” Glusman noted that Shabbat services have sometimes been “standing room only. We had to move if we wanted to meet the needs of the community.”

Congregational president Michael Goldman noticed a “For Sale” sign leaning against the church building recently, and before the sign had been hammered into the yard, the acquisition process started.

The new building is one-third the size of the previous Shearith Israel, but came ready-made with pews and other furnishings. It had not been used for services in several years.

Members have been working on Sundays to get the building ready for its Chanukah dedication, hanging memorial plaques and painting the walls.

The original ark from the 19th century, which was acquired from the Jewish community in Eufaula, was reassembled in the new space, and some of the stained glass windows from the church were replaced with windows from the previous synagogue.

Glusman said the move “signifies that the synagogue is alive and thriving.”