International Survey of Jewish Monuments
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Save an Indiana Shul

by Mark Gordon

In 1901, the Chevra B'nai Israel (Sons of Israel) Congregation broke ground to build the first synagogue in downtown South Bend, Indiana at 420 William Street. Dedicated in 1902, this eclectic building has Romanesque Revival arches, Gothic windows and pyramidal finials. Membership fell in the early 1980s, the congregation shifted from Orthodoxy to Reconstructionism. But by 1991, services ceased as membership continued to fall.

Some remaining members, including Mendel Piser, are searching for a new use for the historic building. Initial efforts centered on Jewish uses such as an archive or cultural center, but the Jewish community in South Bend would not take a leadership role. Based on successes in Newark, New Jersey (see JHR I:3-4) and elsewhere, recent efforts have broadened to include other non-profit purposes, and these look more promising.

B'nai Yisrael has stabilized the synagogue building through roof repairs and is willing to contribute its remaining endowment toward preservation of it. The building is small enough that physically moving it appears feasible and consistent with precedents in Washington, DC, Madison and San Diego.

The Northern Indiana Historical Society is located five blocks away and discussions are pending to move the synagogue adjacent to the society. Uses proposed for the relocated synagogue include a recital hall, a dance hall and/or a multi-ethnic center that could emphasize the diversity of Indiana settlers and include periodic meetings of the Michigan Jewish Historical Society.

Mr. Piser and others are working with the Historical Society as well as South Bend Heritage to work out details for moving the building and securing its restoration, estimated to cost $400,000 to $500,000.

For more information, please call Mendel Piser at 219/234-7477.

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last update: 1/25/00