Friday, May 16, 2014

Synagogue Becomes Gift Shop in Minor League Baseball Stadium

I love Minor League baseball stadiums. And I love synagogue architecture. But never did I ever think those two passions would connect. My colleague and teacher Rabbi Hayim Herring told me about an old synagogue building that has been incorporated to a new Minor League baseball park.

Jonathan Eig reports in the New Yorker that the Sons of Israel synagogue, which was built in 1901, is now the gift shop at Coveleski Stadium, home to the South Bend Silver Hawks (the Arizona Diamondbacks’ Class A affiliate). The former Orthodox synagogue is located just beyond the left-field fence at the ballpark.

Apparently the gift shop's doing pretty well and most Silver Hawks fans don't even notice that they're in a former shul when they're shopping for their souvenirs. Berlin is beginning to promote the space in new ways, too. The team's owner even wants to book weddings and bar mitzvahs in the off-season.

Arizona Diamondback's Class A affiliate's ballpark was once an Orthodox synagogue
The gift shop at the Arizona Diamondback's Class A affiliate's ballpark was once an Orthodox synagogue

Andrew Berlin, who is Jewish, purchased the Silver Hawks in 2011 and didn't notice the old synagogue building. During renovations on Coveleski Stadium he wondered about the shul building which hadn't been used in years. That's when he decided to preserve it and incorporate it into the Minor League ballpark. When he bought the team, he held a meeting with members of the local Jewish community and proposed moving the perimeter of the stadium to enclose the synagogue. Berlin already pledged to spend $2.5 million of his own money on ballpark improvements so he decided he'd invest an additional million dollars on the synagogue building's restoration. The city of South Bend transferred ownership of the shul to Berlin.

According to the article, "on May 16th, the Silver Hawks will unveil a new plaque near the entrance to the gift shop, calling more attention to the synagogue's heritage, including its recent addition to the National Register of Historic Places. The team, which reached the league’s championship series last year, and has started strongly this season with twenty wins and seventeen losses, will be playing the Fort Wayne TinCaps that night. Berlin hopes that fans will come for the ceremony and stay for the baseball, the free Gallo wine tasting, and the post-game fireworks. That day also happens to be a Friday, which means that if Jewish fans would like to visit the gift shop at sundown to offer their private Sabbath prayers, they’re welcome to do so."

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Come see this gorgeous old synagogue built in 1900 and dedicated in 1901. In the nearly three decades that it sat outside the stadium walls in the shadows of ongoing baseball games, though empty and forgotten, it never once suffered the indignity or humiliation of vandalism or graffiti of any kind. Today, in a city consisting in the largest percent of Christians, it is voted to be one of the most favorite features of this beautiful ballpark. Thank God Andrew Berlin moved the stadium walls out and around it. Now it is alive again. It even looks happy.

Every city in America has it's challenges. My city is no different. But the story of this synagogue and it's symbolic significance to the men, women and children of my hometown makes me very proud to say that I am from South Bend, Indiana.

Thank you for writing about it

Lou Pierce