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Huntsville Jewish Heritage Center opening soon

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HUNTSVILLE, Ala. - The doors will be open next weekend at one of Huntsville's most historic landmarks. A dedication will be held for the Huntsville Jewish Heritage Center.

Huntsville's Temple B'nai Shalom on Lincoln Street has been on the downtown corner for more than 100 years. “It was finished in 1899 and it is the oldest synagogue in Alabama in continuous use,” Margaret Anne Goldsmith told me while sitting in a pew inside the synagogue.

She loves history and genealogy. Here family roots are deep in Huntsville’s Jewish community. “My ancestors were that first group that came prior to the civil war,” she said. “There were other Jews who had come before the 1850’s but many of them came and left.” But her family stayed.

“My great-great grandfather Morris Bernstein was the first to come and remain,” she told me. Other ancestors followed including another great-great grandfather, Robert Herstein and the Schiffman brothers, Daniel and Solomon.

Their story is told in a video called “The Legacy of the Huntsville, Alabama Jewish Community.” It’s part of the Huntsville Jewish Heritage Center which opens next weekend.

Guests will be able to tour the synagogue and learn more about the Jewish faith. “Our sacred book is the Torah which is the first five books of the bible that the Christian faith also shares,” Margaret Anne said. And they’re handwritten in Hebrew on parchment scrolls.

The covers used to protect the scrolls are handmade and they are beautiful. Many of the older covers are now framed and hang on the wall just outside the Heritage Center. The collection includes part of one cover that says first Torah cover.

The Heritage Center features items ranging from the original desk from the Rabbi’s study when the temple was built to a shofar, a ram’s horn used during observance of the High Holy Days. Some items may look familiar, like the menorah or yarmulke.

One item from the holocaust is without a doubt, the most powerful piece in the center. “It’s the star of David. It has a bit of material around it so it was torn from their clothing and they had to wear that during the holocaust,” Margaret Anne said. “It says Jude on it.”

The Heritage Center is a must see for those who have never been to a service or a temple function. “This museum gives people an opportunity to come in in a much more relaxed fashion,” she said. “Visit the synagogue, the temple, see everything, see the heritage center and learn a little bit about Judaism.” And Huntsville’s history.

The open house celebrating the dedication of the Huntsville Jewish Heritage Center at Temple B’nai Sholom is Sunday April 2nd from 3:30 to 5 p.m. The temple is located at 103 Lincoln Street in downtown Huntsville. Everyone is invited.