Heritage Florida Jewish News - Central Florida's Independent Jewish Voice

American synagogue to be dedicated after 113 years

 

The Sons of Israel Synagogue then (in hand-held photo) and now, the Silver Hawks team store-the only one of its kind in an American ballpark.

South Bend, Indiana-Representatives from Indiana Landmarks, the Northern Indiana Center for History and the City of South Bend will joined dozens of leaders from the local Jewish community on Friday, May 16, for the ceremonial unveiling of a permanent plaque commemorating the National Register of Historic Places status that has been bestowed upon the region's oldest synagogue-a synagogue which happens to reside inside the confines of a professional minor league baseball stadium. The 113-year-old building is located approximately 120 feet over the left-field wall at Four Winds Field where the South Bend Silver Hawks, a Class A minor league team affiliated with the Arizona Diamondbacks, play in downtown South Bend.

Built in 1901 for the Sons of Israel congregation, the Sons of Israel Synagogue was the first permanent synagogue in the city of South Bend. It later became home to the B'nai Yisrael Reconstructionist Congregation before closing its doors in 1990.

The building was saved from demolition several times over the past couple of decades as Indiana Landmarks and former congregation members like Mendel Piser and his nephew David of South Bend fought to protect it. David Piser, who is president of the Michiana Jewish Historical Society, spoke at the event on behalf of the community, including his uncle who passed away in 2007.

Before Mendel Piser died at the age of 88, he was quoted by the Chicago Tribune as saying "I only hope they'll put up a historic marker on the building telling the story that it used to be a synagogue. I like to think that a hundred years from now someone will see that plaque and say: 'What do you know, there used to be Jews here.'"

In 2011, when Chicago-native Andrew Berlin bought the South Bend Silver Hawks team, he planned to build a modern new team store from the ground up. Instead, he fell in love with the old synagogue sitting in the shadows outside the stadium walls and put a million dollars into renovating and bringing it inside the boundaries of the ballpark itself. Today, it's the new team store-the only one of its kind in an American ballpark.

The former Sons of Israel Synagogue now sits inside the boundaries of the Four Winds Field ballpark.

In the summer of 2013, the building was recognized both by the Historic Landmarks Foundation of Indiana and the National Register of Historic Places as a National Historical Building.

On its outside, the Hebrew script in the stonework and the Star of David on both sides of the roof's ornamentation identify the synagogue's original purpose. The interior architecture remains mostly intact as the restoration project succeeded in keeping that which hadn't been damaged or dilapidated.

 

"One of the things about this building that just astounds me is that it still exists," said Randy Ray, executive director of the Northern Indiana Center for History. "It's defied the odds that it's been around so long. When you walk into it, everyone stops talking. It has a way of captivating you; it's got grandeur to it."

 

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