Saving Selma’s synagogue


SELMA, Ala. (JTA) — From the street, the red-brick facade of Temple Mishkan Israel retains all the grandeur of when it was first built in 1899.

But step inside, and the degradation of a once proud synagogue is apparent everywhere, from the well-scuffed wood of its pews and holy ark to the cracks lining the soaring supports for its vaulted ceiling, a result of chronic water damage from a leaky roof. Only a series of magnificent stained glass windows appear to have withstood the corrosion of time.

Selma’s Jewish community, which once numbered well over 100 families, is down to its final dozen or so members, and the synagogue hasn’t been in frequent use for years. With the community having accepted the fact of its eventual disappearance, the remaining members have invested their hopes in a plan to transform the historic synagogue into a museum dedicated to the history of a community that was once an important civic presence here.

"We think that Selma has an incredible opportunity," said Macy Hart, the founding director of the Institute for Southern Jewish Life in Jackson, Miss., which would oversee the operation of the museum if the community can come up with the renovation money. "It’s a great opportunity for Selma to concentrate on tourism."

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