BY BRIAN L. HUCHEL
Dwindling numbers are forcing the oldest Jewish community in the city of Danville to move to a new location.
The Congregation Anshe Knesset Israel announced this week that after 20 years in its current synagogue at 14 E. Ridgeview St. — the former Ridgeview Baptist Church — they will move. It has been in that location since 1992.
Neal Ehrlich of Danville is the longtime leader of the congregation. He said it was a tough decision, given the congregation’s 96-year history in the city.
He said the congregation — which stands at fewer than 25 people — will move to an office at Mervis Industries in Danville. Owner Lou Mervis has been a member of the congregation for 76 years, Ehrlich said.
“We’ve probably been talking about this for six years,” he said. “It came at this point because our congregation is so small. To be able to keep a building going, there are responsibilities and expenses. It’s gotten to the point where our membership couldn’t continue to do that.”
The Congregation Anshe Knesset Israel will hold concluding services on Oct. 12 and 13. Rabbi Sheldon Switkin of Columbus, Ohio, has led the congregation in prayer for the past 25 years and will lead the final Sabbath services.
In addition, a memorial service will be held in the Jewish section of Spring Hill Cemetery on Sunday to conclude the services offered by the congregation.
Ehrlich described it as “a joyous, sad moment” for the congregation members. A number of people are expected to attend from both the East and West coasts, as well as several states throughout the Midwest, bringing stories and pictures from the congregation’s past.
“There will be a lot of tears,” he said.
According to congregation historian Sybil Mervis, the congregation was formed in the early 20th century by a group of Jewish immigrants from Eastern Europe. They met above a fellow Jew’s shop at first, but in 1922 purchased a former church at the corner of Washington and Harrison streets. Later in that decade, they purchased another old church building at Walnut and Townsend.
The congregation settled into its current location in 1992.
Ehrlich said the congregation has gotten help from an organization that tells temples and synagogues how to disband and what is necessary to close a synagogue.
“It’s just not a matter of boxing up and moving to the next place,” he said. “You’re closing down 97 years’ worth of history.”
In addition, several items — including windows that represent the Jewish holidays throughout the year — will be donated from the building to the on-campus Jewish organization at the University of Indiana at Bloomington.
As for the building, Ehrlich said it is available. “The building is for sale and would strongly hope it would go to another religious organization in keeping with the spirit of the building,” he said. “It’s in a really quiet neighborhood and we hope someone would be interested.”
As for the congregation, he said the hopes are the members can continue on in their new surroundings.
“We hope that it can last until the 100th year,” he said. “And we hope to go on further.”
Neal Ehrlich is offering information about the building that housed the synagogue, which is for sale. He may be reached at 260-2837.