Jewish community dedicates center

Posted: Sunday, August 14, 2005

No one asked why this Saturday was different when Juneau's Sukkat Shalom Jewish congregation met near the end of Cordova Street in Douglas.

"Our dream has been infectious, and it has been realized," said Sheryl Weinberg near the end of the first service in the congregation's new home.

Weinberg headed the building committee and said fundraising took off last year when the congregation acquired the former Cedar Park Center, among the trees at 211 Cordova Street. It became something tangible.

"We've been meeting in churches, people's living rooms, the public library," she said at the reception following the service. "We'll be here forever, hopefully."

"We've been hit and miss," said Norman Cohen, he congregation's president. He said the congregation has been holding services on the holidays, bringing in rabbis to lead them. It is still looking to bring in rabbis for special occasions, but the congregation will be able to perform services on its own more often.

Rabbi David Fine came to Juneau from Seattle to lead Saturday's gathering of about 100 people, beginning with Hebrew song. He said to the assembled congregation that those who looked at their Jewish calendars might have noticed that sunset would mark the start of a day of mourning for the destruction of the Temple of Jerusalem.

"I would say this is a very important time for us to be dedicating the building we're in," he said. "Rather than focusing on mourning, we can focus on growing and building. It's a time of joy."

Later Fine asked how one dedicates a synagogue. "The answer is, with your presence," he said.

Some who couldn't be among those in the sanctuary were remembered on this Saturday morning in the Hebrew-calendar year 5765. Cohen mentioned Jewish residents of Juneau who settled here as far back as the 19th century.

Weinberg thanked architect Allison Snyder, who designed the remodeling project, and contractor Jonathan Wolfson, whom she described as a partner in the project.

Weinberg also spoke of her mother Grace, who died two years ago to the day that began with the previous sunset.

After Grace Weinberg came to Juneau 10 years ago, she talked often about the need for a synagogue. "She talked to me about it," her daughter said. "She talked to everyone she knew."

Sheryl Weinberg said it was fitting to dedicate the building with a service on this Saturday.

There is still work to be done at the building, Cohen said. The congregation is looking for a wall for the front of the sanctuary that will serve as an ark for the Torah, the scroll containing the scripture used during services.

Also, the library and kitchen need to be finished he said. There's lighting and electrical work to do. The bare floors need carpeting to quiet the footsteps of running children, he added.

During the service he noted a number of children who have yet to reach the age of bar and bat mitzvah, ceremonies that mark boys' and girls' reaching the age of religious responsibility.

"We're about the future," he said. "For those kids, we're here for you. We really want to make this a home for Jews in Southeast Alaska."

• Tony Carroll can be reached at tony.carroll@juneauempire.com.



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