Wednesday, June 04, 2008
Former Beth Israel Synagogue in Stevens Point, Wisconsin, on National Register of Historic Places
By Samuel Gruber
The small Temple Beth Israel synagogue in Stevens Point, Wisconsin (USA) built more than a century ago was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in March 2008. A ceremony will take place on June 15th to celebrate the designation and to open the building, which houses a permanent exhibit about Jewish religious practices and the history of the Stevens Point Jewish Community, to the public.
In appearance, the building is typical of many small town synagogues built in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. It combines vernacular and historicist architectural elements in a manner typical of local carpenters and contractors. Beth Israel is a rectangular wood frame building with a clipped gable roof. Its distinguishing elements are its Gothic pointed windows, particularly a large double window set in the entrance façade. The doorway is off-center to the right.
Beth Israel, built in 1905, is the third oldest synagogue building in the State of Wisconsin and the oldest synagogue with its sanctuary intact. In 1985, when the congregation could no longer supply a minyan, they disbanded the congregation and deeded the building to the Portage County Historical Society in 1985 to serve as a museum the Jewish history of the region, and for document various other aspects of local history.
Research for the National Register listing was carried out by Mark Seiler of Stevens Point, who reconstructed much of the Jewish history of the town. According to Seiler’s research, Temple Beth Israel was the first Jewish congregation in central Wisconsin, established a decade before congregations in Arpin and Wausau. The development of the Stevens Point Jewish community in Stevens Point was part of the third wave of Jewish immigration to Wisconsin after 1880. Reflecting the traditions of its largely Eastern European immigrant founders, Beth Israel was organized as an orthodox congregation, but in 1940 Rabbi Curt Reach, a refugee from Danzig, Germany (now Gdansk, Poland), was hired, and the congregation affiliated with the Conservative Movement. At its peak, the synagogue served about forty families from the area.
Read the National Register Nomination for a more detailed history.
See also http://www.pchswi.org/synagogue/synagogue.htm