Sumter's Temple Sinai Jewish History Center to open Friday

BY IVY MOORE
Special to The Sumter Item
Posted 5/27/18

After more than two years of planning and building, the Temple Sinai Jewish History Center will open to the public on Friday with a service in the sanctuary. Opening ceremonies will be held on Saturday.

The conversion of the temple's Social Hall …

This item is available in full to subscribers

Sumter's Temple Sinai Jewish History Center to open Friday

Posted

After more than two years of planning and building, the Temple Sinai Jewish History Center will open to the public on Friday with a service in the sanctuary. Opening ceremonies will be held on Saturday.

The conversion of the temple's Social Hall and Brody Educational Building into the center grew out of the concern for the future of the historic temple, whose membership has declined considerably during the past 20 years.

Roger Ackerman and Jay Schwartz, members of the Temple Sinai Board, came up with the plan to convert part of the temple property as a way to keep the temple alive for future generations.

"Five men from the temple formed a committee 10 years ago, and they had the foresight to look this far down the road," Schwartz said.

He credited Ackerman for coming up with the idea for the history center.

"We hooked up with the Sumter County Museum, and they stepped right up and are running with it," Schwartz said.

The museum will operate the center.

Ackerman had high praise for Sumter County Museum Executive Director Annie Rivers, who found Atlanta- and Charleston-based HW Exhibits to create the center. The museum's foundation, led by President Frank Edwards, collaborated and provided some funding for the center, which is also funded by contributions and grants, most notably from Central Carolina Community Foundation's Connected Communities program.

"I'm excited beyond words," Ackerman said. "I get emotional when I talk about it. Deane (his wife) and I visited the center, and we both ended up crying. I'm excited for the temple, the community, for the museum, for the city . The collaboration was close to perfect."

Rivers said the museum, primarily herself and Education and Outreach Coordinator Elizabeth Moses, worked together "on the content, getting photographs together. HW did the design and layout, color selection and some of the text."

Rivers did a lot of writing, collecting artifacts, fact checking and editing. The result is an attractive, informative center that will be a valuable resource for students, historians and others interested in Judaism, the Holocaust and Jewish history, especially in Sumter and South Carolina.

The center, entered from the front of the temple, leads visitors through several areas, including Introduction to Jewish Traditions; Exploration of Jewish Immigrants; Stories from Sumter Residents; Lessons from the Holocaust; and Oral Histories. Prominent is the exhibit on Sumter resident Abe Stern, who was sent to the Auschwitz concentration camp at a very young age. His oral history begins in 1939 when the Nazis invaded Poland. There are several other oral histories, as well, most from Sumter residents.

"The Holocaust affected a lot of people in Sumter," Moses said. "It's pretty much a self-guided tour, but we will have trained docents present to assist visitors when needed."

Moses and Rivers will also alternate days spent at the center, she said.

The public is invited to attend a commemorative Shabbat service conducted by Rabbi Marcus Sanford at 7 p.m. Friday. Moses said the service will be conducted "in English with a few Hebrew prayers. It's easy to follow along, and the rabbi is very good about explaining things for non-Jewish visitors. Dress is business casual."

Following the one-hour service, there will be an oneg - light refreshments.

The opening continues with public events on Saturday. At 10 a.m., there will be opening remarks at Temple Sinai, a ribbon cutting and viewing of the Jewish History Center.

After a noon break, artist Mary Burkett will give a presentation titled Beloved Children of the Holocaust, featuring her drawings based on photographs from that period. The center itself will remain open for viewing until 5 p.m.

Admission to all events on Friday and Saturday is free. Once the Temple Sinai Jewish History Center opens officially on Thursday, June 7, tickets may be purchased for admission to the center, Sumter County Museum or a combination.

Ackerman said he thinks the center will be an excellent resource for students and others interested in Jewish history, especially the Holocaust, adding that it will be the only permanent Holocaust museum between Atlanta and Richmond, Virginia.

"It's not just a static museum," he said. "We are planning programming for the future that will bring lectures, chamber music and other events here. I'm so excited for our community. It's a reflection of the community that we were able to do this. I really believe it's something special."

Schwartz agreed, adding, "It's been a long journey, and I think we created something that will last for years to come. We're very proud of what we created."