One more reason to drive east is the new Augusta Jewish Museum the public can preview next month.
The museum involves renovation of two historic buildings in downtown Augusta for an education and cultural center focusing on Jewish heritage and tradition.
Next month the first phase of construction is expected to be completed. The project includes restoring the oldest-standing synagogue in Georgia – one of the oldest in the country – and renovating a historic building next door.
Augusta native Robyn Wittenberg Dudley, project administrator, shares the origination of the project. “The City of Augusta wanted to tear down both beautiful buildings to build a parking lot, but concerned citizens rallied, and the city agreed to lease the buildings to Historic Augusta, a private nonprofit membership organization dedicated to the preservation of the historic-built environment of the area. AJM was given five years to open to the public with the Augusta Jewish Museum. We are meeting that deadline!”
Phase One of the project includes the renovation of the Court of Ordinary. Formerly the probate office for the city and county, the structure was built in 1860 as one of the earliest fireproof buildings in Georgia and will house the AJM Education Center. Renovations have included rebuilding the portico, replacing broken windows, restoring and cleaning the original one-inch marble flooring, and adding an accessibility ramp. A preview is planned for late July featuring a celebration, proclamation and tour by appointment.
Phase Two will restore the oldest standing synagogue in Georgia. Built in 1869, this was the original home of Augusta’s Congregation Children of Israel and is the future home of the AJM Cultural Center. Exhibitions and programs will tell the stories of Jewish contributions to the Aiken-Augusta, Ga., area. The restored sanctuary will be a rental hall to host events. The AJM Cultural Center will feature a theater, classrooms, offices and a collective management space.
Jack Steinberg, the founding chairman, was the visionary who dreamed of a museum to preserve and relate stories of the Jews in the Central Savannah River Area. In 2015, Historic Augusta, led by executive director Erick Montgomery allied with the AJM board to restore and transform the historic buildings. Although Steinberg passed away in July 2019, his dream has been carried on by the AJM board and members of Historic Augusta, a private, nonprofit membership organization dedicated to the preservation of the historic built environment of the area.
The AJM virtual museum, created by graphic designer John A. Kauth, introduces the mission and focuses on the four educational pillars that support the Augusta Jewish Museum: Jewish contributions, Jewish heritage and traditions, remembering the Holocaust and Israel. To create awareness about this project, the AJM also participated in the CCI Israeli Festival and Arts in the Heart of Augusta, among other community events.