Synagogue to open in late June

Goal is to open the temple for Bar Mitzvah on June 25

Posted: Monday, May 23, 2005

Juneau's first synagogue is taking shape.

Wooden frames separate the former Cedar Park Center into several rooms, with one for the library, one for the sanctuary and one for the kitchen.

The Juneau Jewish Community is expecting to get a certificate of occupancy for the synagogue by the end of June.

"We won't have all the flooring done and it will not be our final, finished, desirable home by the end of June, but we are thrilled to get in," said Sheryl Weinberg, who led the Juneau Jewish Community's synagogue building committee.

Weinberg said the community's goal is to open the synagogue June 25 for a Bar Mitzvah, a rite of passage for Jewish boys turning 13.

For decades, the Juneau Jewish Community, which has about 100 active members, has been meeting at Northern Light United Church and Mountain View Senior Center for religious services and social gatherings. The group wanted a synagogue and saved to build one for more than 10 years.

Chava Lee, board member of the Juneau Jewish Community, said having a synagogue will allow Jews in town to have a permanent home for worshiping, gathering and learning about their heritage.

"We need to have space for a classroom and a library," Lee said. "Right now, we have hundreds of books stored at several people's homes."

Lee said having a permanent place will allow the community to store and display all the community's sacred objects in one place. The most important religious item is its Torah, a 2-foot-long handwritten parchment comprising the first five books of the Bible.

"The torah is more than 100 years old. It was saved during the Holocaust," Lee said. "It is our most valued religious artifact and a work of art itself."

The community searched for a building for four years. Weinberg got involved in the synagogue building committee in 2003 and made it a personal passion.

"My mother was the oldest person in our community," Weinberg said. "Having a synagogue was very important to her. On her 90th birthday, she asked people to make donations to the building fund. When she passed away in August 2003, I picked up the ball and directed my energies to build a synagogue."

The Juneau Jewish Community purchased the building at 211 Cordova St. from the city in April, 2004.

Since then, volunteers have worked to turn the old Cedar Park Center into their ideal place of worship. Alison Snyder, an architecture professor at the University of Oregon, received a minimal stipend to design the synagogue.

Weinberg said once the first phase of the construction is complete, the next phase will include raising the ceiling and purchasing other religious artifacts such as a Torah Ark to store the Torah, an eternal light that symbolizes the eternal presence of God, and a bimah, a platform that sits in front of the ark.

Lee said "having a permanent home means that the Jewish community is committed to being established here in Juneau."



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