Repairs to historic St. Augustine synagogue begin following Hurricane Matthew


BY LES STERN
Synagogue President

 

The First Congregation Sons of Israel Board of Trustees wishes to thank the many generous donors who have reached out to help in our efforts to begin repairs of the Sanctuary of the city’s historic synagogue. Special appreciation goes out to the Jewish Federation of Jacksonville and the United Way of Northeast Florida for their assistance. The Sanctuary has been closed since suffering extensive damage from Hurricane Matthew. Fortunately, Sabbath services have continued in the Max Jaffe Hall to the rear of the building. Once repairs are made and the Sanctuary is open for services again, building restoration efforts will be completed for this historic structure.

 

First Congregation Sons of Israel is the oldest synagogue in the Nation’s oldest city, St. Augustine, Florida, and the congregation, with its humble beginnings in the 1800s, has been active, continuously since. These early Jewish settlers to St. Augustine had a vision to provide a place for Jewish worship, learning, and activities for the members then, and to provide an enduring legacy for future generations. Because of a request from descendants of those original families to continue that vision, restoration plans were in the process when Hurricane Matthew struck on October 7, 2016. This 100 year storm caused extensive damage to the Sanctuary, which houses the historic stained and leaded glass windows and the Torah scrolls which were brought from Europe to St. Augustine by the early congregants. The heart of the congregation lies in the sanctuary, as here, the culture of the congregation is maintained, preserved, and celebrated daily.

 

The storm flooded the Sanctuary causing the HVAC system to fail, ruining prayer books, damaging the office and its equipment and causing the closure of the Sanctuary for the first time in 93 years. Thanks to the generosity of donors for this cause, repairs are ready to begin. Prayer books have been donated by congregations in Gainesville and Atlanta, so that services can continue.  Mechanical and electrical engineers have been contracted to rewire and replace the HVAC system, and the roof over the sanctuary will also need to be replaced, as will the ceiling tiles after they’ve been taken down for re-wiring. New lighting fixtures will be needed, as well as restoring of vintage theater seats which have been in the sanctuary since their acquisition from St. Augustine theaters in the 1940s. Before replacing the seats, which have already been carefully removed from the sanctuary, the original heart of pine and yellow pine flooring will be refinished and brought back to its original beauty.

 

There are fourth and fifth generation descendants of the Congregation Founders who continue as members, many of whom have suffered personal loss during this devastating storm. Having their spiritual home restored would bring stability and continuity to their lives. Any help from the community at large is appreciated, so if you are interested in making a donation to help with the repairs and restoration process, contact the Congregation office at 904-829-9532 or send an email to fcsi1924@gmail.com.