On Sunday, the Fort Wayne Jewish community will mark a milestone – the formal opening of the Madge Rothschild Resource Center at 5200 Old Mill Road.
But the center, on the recently renamed Rifkin Campus of Congregation Achduth Vesholom, will also represent a new dimension of community outreach, said John Stein, project coordinator.
“What we want is for it to be a resource not only to the Jewish community, but we want it to be a resource for the whole community,” he said. “One of the main purposes is demystifying what Judaism is.”
The center consists of a nearly 3,100-square-foot addition to the modernistic temple building that dates to the 1960s.
The decision to build the addition began about five years ago, when members started to “re-vision” the temple, Stein said.
Temple members wanted to make the best use of the space at the facility to fit the needs of today's Jewish families and launch it into the future, he said.
The idea was to make the place more of a community center that would bring people together not only for worship but also educational, recreational, artistic and cultural programs and for the open exchange of ideas, Stein said.
“No, you don't have to be Jewish” to attend events, he said. “You just have to be curious.”
Already, the temple's community outreach includes religious school classrooms being used for a secular Brightpoint Head Start preschool program during the week, Stein said.
Arrangements also have been made so several Jewish organizations can share space and host events at the center, he added.
The Jewish Federation of Fort Wayne, the IPFW Institute for Holocaust and Genocide Studies and the Jewish Cemetery Association will also be headquartered there.
The federation is known for hosting speakers and other programs about current affairs in Israel and the Middle East, as well as Jewish history and life. The federation also sponsors a summer camp and scholarships.
The institute assists area teachers who now are required by state law to teach about the Holocaust, Stein said.
The cemetery association has been working to contact families and restore Fort Wayne's Jewish cemetery, which dates to 1914 and was vandalized in early 2016.
More than three times larger than the previous space, the center also includes the Richard Sarfan Library.
Plans are in the works for museum displays beginning this year, Stein said. The center has enough space for meetings and classes for up to 50 people, a children's story pit, big screens for presentations, gallery space and a coffee bar.
The addition is named for late Fort Wayne philanthropist Madge Rothschild, great-granddaughter of temple founder Siegmund Redelsheimer and the last direct descendant of a founding family of the temple, which was started in 1848.
Sunday's open house will begin at 2 p.m. and feature tours and a lecture at 4 p.m. by author David Laskin.
From Washington state, Laskin will speak about his new book on his family's personal diaspora influenced by the Holocaust, “One Family, Three Journeys: How One Family Embodied the Sweep of 20th Century Jewish History.”
The event is free and open to the public.
The center will cost about $1 million when it is fully furnished and is part of changes to the campus, including a new circular driveway, that costs $2 million to $2.5 million, Stein said.
Achduth Vesholom has about 165 families and has been led by Rabbi Lenny Sarko since July.