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Frank Gray

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Samuel Hoffman | The Journal Gazette
B’nai Jacob Synagogue will begin its 100th anniversary celebration on Nov. 2.

Synagogue celebrating tumultuous 100 years

A 100th anniversary is a big deal, whether it marks a birthday or a century in business or some other organization.

Starting early next month, one group, the B’nai Jacob Synagogue, will celebrate its 100th anniversary with a variety of activities that will stretch throughout the year.

It’s far from the oldest religious congregation in Fort Wayne. It isn’t even the oldest synagogue in the city.

But marking the milestone is a big deal, notes Leah Tourkow, one of the oldest members of the congregation.

Historically, she points out, “We were not allowed to stay around in one place for very long.”

You don’t need to be a history scholar to know what she’s talking about.

From being banned from countries to the pogroms in Russia and ultimately the Holocaust, Jews have been persecuted for thousands of years.

The synagogue actually began on Sept. 29, 1912, but that date this year fell in the middle of some holy days, so the actual celebration has been put off for a little more than a month, until the weekend of Nov. 2-4.

There will be a service on Friday evening at the synagogue, which is off West Jefferson Boulevard, another on Saturday, and a dinner on Sunday.

Throughout the year, the congregation will have various activities. One will involve different families preparing their recipes for keigel, also called noodle pudding. Every family, it seems, has a different recipe depending on which country the family came from.

So how excited is the congregation to mark 100 years?

Well, Tourkow said, there seemed to be more excitement during the 70th and 75th anniversaries. For those celebrations the congregation still included some people who had helped establish the synagogue. Many of them had come from countries like Russia, Latvia and Poland, fleeing persecution. Seeing something they had helped start decades before was meaningful.

After 100 years, though, they are all gone.

It’s worth remembering, though, that being a member of a synagogue has not always been a conflict-free experience. Indiana was once a hotbed for the Ku Klux Klan, and later neo-Nazis emerged.

The synagogue has had three homes. Its last home before moving to its West Jefferson location was on Fairfield Avenue, just south of Creighton Avenue, and from the 1960s into the 1990s the place was the target of vandalism and threats.

In the 1960s someone painted swastikas on the building. A group of Christian ministers helped remove them. It made the national news, Tourkow said.

Over the years, the synagogue was broken into and ransacked and swastikas painted on the inside.

“Kids would terrorize kids going to Hebrew School,” Tourkow said, adding that they would leave fliers on cars’ windshields and vandalize automobiles, she said.

It wasn’t spontaneous, either. It was planned harassment.

Tourkow remembers one phone call quite clearly. A man said he would be at the synagogue in 10 minutes and shoot everyone in the building. The building was quickly emptied and the police were called, Tourkow said.

The police didn’t come, she said, but a man in fatigues carrying a gun did arrive, only to find the doors locked.

Police were called again, but they still didn’t come, Tourkow said.

The man with the gun, meanwhile, got frustrated and left. So harassment hasn’t gone away.

The new location off West Jefferson is safer, Tourkow said. That’s where they’ll mark 100 years, peacefully.

Frank Gray reflects on his and others’ experiences in columns published Sunday, Tuesday and Thursday. He can be reached by phone at 461-8376, by fax at 461-8893, or by email at fgray@jg.net. You can also follow him on Twitter @FrankGrayJG.

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