Plaque honors South Bend’s community melting pot

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SOUTH BEND, Ind. (AP) - Just beyond left field at Four Winds Field sits the Sons of Israel Synagogue, which was built in 1901 and now serves as the Silver Hawks’ team store.

The former synagogue was recognized by the Historic Landmarks Foundation of Indiana and the National Register of Historic Places in the summer of 2013 as a historic landmark.

Now, the 113-year-old building’s place in history will be solidified at 6:30 p.m. Friday with a plaque dedication at the ballpark. The public is welcome to attend the unveiling.

“The building is a present-day manifestation of the past,” Randy Ray, executive director of the Center for History, told the South Bend Tribune (http://bit.ly/1jitmpd ).

“This is a nice tribute.”

An important part of South Bend’s history remains with that building, said David Piser, president of the Michiana Jewish Historical Society.

Piser said people of all nationalities would gather at the synagogue for worship. It was a community melting pot, he said.

The building served as South Bend’s first permanent synagogue and later was home to the B’nai Yisrael Reconstructionist Congregation before closing its doors in 1990.

Sitting vacant for more than 20 years, the structure was threatened by demolition many times, but people such as Piser and his late uncle, Mendel Piser, fought to keep it standing.

Now thanks to their work, and the $1 million investment by Silver Hawks owner Andrew Berlin to renovate the structure, the synagogue stands with a new purpose.

Many of the architectural elements of the synagogue were kept intact. Hebrew script etched in stone and two Stars of David adorn the outside. Inside, a restored, ornate chandelier commands the room.

The fact that so much of the original building remained intact for all of these years, Ray said, is reason enough for it to be considered historic. But the synagogue, he said, is also the only one of its size to have stayed in that condition.

Although Piser said he’s sure people would have liked to see it used as a synagogue again, Berlin respected the original structure and a beautiful job was done.

“Do you want a building that is 113 years old to be torn down and added to the trash?” Piser said. “We saved a beautiful building with historical relevance to the whole community.”

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