Congregation Achduth Vesholom is investing in the future of Fort Wayne’s Jewish community with a new $1.07 million resource center to tell the story of Judaism and its role in the development of northeast Indiana.
The Madge Rothschild Resource Center will be a 3,150-square-foot addition to the congregation’s temple and classroom building at 5200 Old Mill Road. The congregation has renamed the property the Rifkin Campus at 5200.
The new name and the new center come as part of a "revisioning" of how the congregation, established in 1848 and the oldest in Indiana, wants to serve the community in the 21st century, said John Stein of Fort Wayne, project co-chairman.
"We had a large, somewhat underutilized building and an even larger lot, and when we started planning in 2011, one of the ideas that was discussed was to create a campus where as many Jewish organizations that wanted to could locate," Stein said.
"We also wanted to create a place that was more dynamic," he said, to encourage interaction with the congregation’s more than 3,000-volume Rabbi Richard B. Safran Library and the Jacob L. Goldman Memorial Museum, which features objects associated with the area’s Jewish individuals and families, Stein said.
He said leaders of the effort consulted with several museum and library experts to make sure the museum was more than "static items stuck in cases and nobody knows what they are." That led to including updated technology such as video screens, he said.
The museum aims to rotate displays and programs throughout the year on topics such as Jewish holidays, the role of Jewish merchants in the first half of the 20th century, and prominent members of the Jewish community, Stein said.
The museum also has a collection of interviews done in the 1980s and 1990s of survivors of the Holocaust that could see a wider audience, he said.
An unusual feature of the building will be an enclosed, but open-air, sculpture garden visible from both the new and the old buildings that will be about 1,100 square feet in size.
Stein said the new building is designed to blend with the midcentury-modern architectural aesthetic of the current temple, which was built around 1960 and designed by the firm of A.M. Strauss, a notable Fort Wayne architect and a temple member.
Strauss’ firm is known for buildings as varied as Memorial Coliseum, the Embassy Theatre and the former Wolf & Dessauer department store downtown.
The new building, long and low-slung like the old one, was designed by Richard Wismer of Fort Wayne.
The Jewish Federation of Fort Wayne, which moved to the temple last year, and a Jewish cemetery association also will be housed in the new building. Talks are underway for a third entity to join them, Stein said.
A Head Start program under the auspices of Brightpoint, formerly CANI, will continue to be housed at the campus. That program serves about 75 children.
Stein said construction will likely start next week and be finished by April. A soft opening should take place next summer, with an official opening in September.
The new center is named for the late great-granddaughter of one of Achduth Vesholom’s founding members, Sigmund Redelsheimer. She was the last direct descendant of a founding family and died in 2005.
The Rifkin Family Foundation of Fort Wayne made a $1 million contribution to developing the campus, which will include a new sculptural sign with the new name. Other major contributors include the Madge Rothschild Foundation, the Dr. Louis A. and Anne B. Schneider Foundation, and the AWS Foundation.