Metro Council sets date to review Anshei Sfard historic designation

JCL officials hold up “Yes to Review!” signs Thursday as Louisville Metro Council votes to review Anshe Sfard’s historic landmark designation. (Community photo by Lee Chottiner)

(Editor’s note: This is a revised version of an earlier story.) 

The status of Anshei Sfard synagogue took a new turn Thursday when the Louisville Metro Council voted unanimously to review a city commission’s decision to designate the shul a historic landmark.
The matter is now referred to council’s planning, zoning & annexation committee, which has scheduled a review of the action for July 17 at 1:30 p.m. Council will have until September 18 to make its final decision. The meeting will not be be a public hearing and no comments will be taken.
Councilwoman Barbara Sexton Smith, D-District 4, who sponsored the resolution, said she was not asking her colleagues to take a position now. “This action tonight simply will be to allow us to initiate a review.”
The ruling temporarily shelves the March 22 decision by the city’s Historic Landmarks Commission, which voted 5-4 to designate the synagogue as historic, citing it as an example of the mid-century modern architectural style.
Anshei Sfard doesn’t want the designation, saying it will make finding a buyer more difficult and risk the survival of Kentucky’s only Orthodox Jewish congregation.
Anshei Sfard has accepted a conditional offer from the Jewish Community of Louisville to purchase the property – the condition being that the landmark decision be reversed.
Several JCL leaders were at the meeting Thursday, holding up multi-color “yes to review!” signs as council members voted. Among them was Becky Swansburg, a JCL Executive Committee member, who said she was pleased with the outcome.
“Louisville’s Jewish community is at an exciting juncture right now,” she said, “The council’s review will have a significant impact on Jewish Louisville’s future, and we encourage every council member to support overturning the landmark designation.”
Jon Fleischaker, chair of the JCL Board of Directors, has said the synagogue’s stained-glass windows, a signature feature of the building and another reason given for the historic designation, would be preserved.
The vote comes as Anshei Sfard is moving into temporary space at Shalom Towers. The 35-family congregation hopes to sell its building, then either buy or build a smaller synagogue that fits its needs.
It has worshiped at its current building at 3700 Dutchmans Lane since 1955, but spokespeople for the congregation say maintaining the facility is proving too much for its resources.
Rabbi Simcha Snaid of Anshei Sfard called the vote “a great step forward and the first step in the process of getting it (the landmark decision) overturned.”
Likewise, Avram Kahn, who petitioned for the landmark designation, expressed optimism.
“I’m looking forward to the review,” he said. “They seem to be fair, and I’m sure they’ll make the proper decision.”

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