As Anshei Sfard prepares to fight the city’s unwanted historic designation for its synagogue, it has gone ahead and accepted a conditional offer from The Jewish Community of Louisville to buy the Dutchmans Lane building.
But the condition of the offer, which was accepted Thursday, could be a steep one: repealing the historic designation.
“I hope it’s not too steep a hill,” said Jon Fleischaker, chairman of the JCL Board of Directors.
The Louisville Metro Historic Landmarks and Preservation District Commission voted 5-4 on March 22 to designate the synagogue as a historic landmark. The protection applies to the synagogue, its education annex and the mikvah. The garage and two houses that the congregation also owns are not protected.
The designation obviously pleased the 200-plus petitioners who opposed razing the building, but it frustrated Anshei Sfard officials who say the historic status could hinder their efforts to sell the property and keep alive Kentucky’s only Orthodox Jewish congregation.
“It really would really be a devastating blow and could lead to the end of Orthodoxy in Kentucky,” Myrle Davis, a member of the congregation’s board of trustees and an attorney, has said. “Our survival depends on selling this building.”
Anshei Sfard plans to appeal the designation to Metro Council, a move The J supports.
“I think we can show Metro Council that the entirety of the Jewish community is behind this from every angle,” Fleischaker said. “This (the sale) is good for the Orthodox community; this is good for Anshei Sfard, and this is good for us because we are able to help the Orthodox community.”
Anshei Sfard moved to its current synagogue in 1955, joining a general migration of the city’s Jewish community to the East End. Now down to 35 families, mostly senior citizens, the congregation is moving into Shalom Towers. In time, it hopes to buy or build a smaller facility that fits its needs.
The congregation has 18 months to resolve the landmark issue, according to the terms of the sales agreement.
What the JCL would do with the property has not been determined, but President and CEO Sara Klein Wagner said the real estate would be of greater use to Jewish Louisville than if a developer built apartments or a nursing home on the site.
For instance, she said the JCL is committed to keeping the mikvah open, though she noted that the Louisville Vaad HaKashruth – which owns the actual facility – may eventually decide to move it.
“We think it’s in the best interest of the community to keep it (the property) in the family,” Wagner said.
She envisioned the site as part of a larger Dutchmans Lane Jewish campus, which includes the future – and expanded – J, athletic fields and more convenient ingress and egress for members.
In addition, Fleischaker said the synagogue’s stained-glass windows, which were cited as one reason for the historic designation, would be preserved.
“We are very committed to maintaining the legacy of Anshe Sfard on that location,” he said.