B’nai Sholom temple has stood on a quiet, tree-lined street in Quincy, Illinois, for almost 150 years.
But the historic Jewish synagogue — one of the oldest in the state — could soon be reduced to rubble.
The temple has sat empty since May, after its dwindling congregation was forced to confront a difficult reality: The members had to sell the building because they could no longer afford to maintain it. While they’re holding out hope that another religious organization will purchase the temple and preserve it, they’re preparing for the worst.
The synagogue, which features massive stained-glass windows and detailed brickwork, was built not long after the Civil War. Construction began in 1869 — the same year the transcontinental railroad was completed.
Sifting through piles of historic documents stored in the building has been a “little archaeology discovery project,” said B’nai Sholom congregant Andrew Skattebo.
“You find things that you didn’t know were there, that nobody's seen in years,” Skattebo said.
Cataloging the contents of the building and reliving its rich history has also helped the remaining members — who number around a dozen — mourn its loss.
“It’s been a healing process and a way to work through the grief,” Skattebo said, adding that several historic artifacts have been transferred to the American Jewish Archives in Cincinnati.
Preserving the history of the B’nai Sholom temple is “critically important,” said Noah Levine, senior vice president of the Jewish Community Legacy Project. The nonprofit has been working with congregation members for the past four years, as they prepared to sell the building.
“Nobody should forget these congregations,” Levine said. “They played an important role in American Jewish history.”
The Jewish Community Legacy Project offers free assistance to congregations in small communities, such as long-term financial planning and preservation of artifacts. Levine estimates it's worked with more than 80 congregations in the past decade, including the now-shuttered Temple Israel in Alton, Illinois.
Congregations shouldn’t wait “until the last person turns out the light” to plan for the future, Levine said.
“You don’t want to have turmoil and chaos at the end of the day, so you plan,” he said. “That takes an amazing amount of anxiety off the shoulders of the congregants and leaders who feel responsible.”
Though the congregation is distributing the historical contents of the building, it's opted not to remove any of the stained glass or architectural features that could appeal to buyers.
The synagogue itself is “pretty much untouched inside,” said B’nai Sholom President Michael Bukstein.
The property is listed for $150,000 with Zanger and Associates, a Quincy-based Realtor. So far, the building hasn't drawn any serious interest.
One promising potential buyer — The Crossing, an Evangelical Presbyterian Church based in Columbia, Missouri — lost interest due to the property’s lack of off-street parking.
“All of us are dreading that time that we hear that somebody does want to buy it, but they only want the lot and the building is likely to be torn down,” Skattebo said.
Still, the congregation will endure, regardless of what happens to the building. Members recently signed a one-year lease with a local church, where they plan to hold Sabbath services once a month.
“There's a lot more hope now that we can survive this,” Skattebo said. “The congregation is going to continue.”