Beth Hebrew as it was

The Beth Hebrew Congregation synagogue, which is being restored, is pictured in its original condition in this undated photo.

Restoration work has begun on Phoenix’s first Orthodox synagogue.

Local developer Michael Levine purchased the building, located in the historic Evans-Churchill neighborhood at 333 E. Portland St. in downtown Phoenix, last month for $850,000. It was designed by local architect Max Kaufman and was the home of Beth Hebrew Congregation (also known as Beth Hebree and Congregation Ayn Yaacov) for decades.

The congregation left the Portland Street location in the late 1970s, after which the building was rented by a church and later, owned by the Black Theatre Troupe. It has sat vacant for several years, and Levine’s crew is now working on stripping away the effects of alterations and years of neglect.

“The best method of preservation is neglect,” Levine said. “Right now, it’s more intact than I even anticipated. A lot of it wasn’t destroyed; it was just buried under walls and different layers.”

Levine describes the building as an “early flex space” rather than a traditional-style synagogue with fixed seating.

His intention is to restore the building to its original appearance with some modern digital updates that will make it an ideal venue for a wide range of activities, from film screenings and exhibits to lectures and lifecycle events. The kitchen will be kosher, and since it has windows open to the street, Levine envisions the building eventually housing a kosher cafe.

“It would be great to turn it into a nonprofit, get people to donate and give it back to the community,” Levine said.

He anticipates that the building will be ready to use by Rosh Hashanah, which this year begins on Sept. 13. The cornerstone of the building, which still contains a time capsule, was originally laid just before Rosh Hashanah in 1955.

“It might not have all the bells and whistles, but it will have air conditioning, which it never had,” he said.

Beth Hebrew Congregation was co-founded by Elias Loewy, a little-known hero who helped free hundreds of Jews from a French concentration camp. Loewy, who also helped organize the local Jewish Free Loan Association, died before the building was completed. His son, Fred, a French resistance fighter, was also a member of the synagogue; Fred donated a box of the synagogue’s records to the Arizona Jewish Historical Society in 2007 after he died in 2006. Levine said Beth Hebrew Congregation is one of the few (possibly the only) synagogues in the U.S. that was founded entirely by Holocaust survivors. In December 1959, Steven Spielberg celebrated his bar mitzvah there.

“There are so many interesting stories that are embodied in this building,” Levine said.

Levine has a proven track record when it comes to revitalizing old buildings; among the projects he has completed through his company, Levine Machine, are the buildings that now house the Bentley Projects art gallery and The Duce Kitchen and Lounge.

Levine now needs “as much history as possible” on the building to assist in its preservation, he said. “It’s been sporadic, getting information.”

Anyone who has photos or other artifacts relating to Beth Hebrew Congregation can contact Levine; post them on the building’s Facebook page, facebook.com/BethHebrew; or pin them to the building’s Pinterest board, pinterest.com/phxbklyn/333-e-portland.

This article from the Jewish News print edition dated April 10, 2015, is an update of an article (see below) originally posted April 2 on jewishaz.com.

Restoration work has begun on Phoenix’s first Orthodox synagogue.

Local developer Michael Levine purchased the building, located at 333 E. Portland St. in downtown Phoenix, last month for $850,000. It was designed by local architect Max Kaufman and was the home of Beth Hebrew Congregation (also known as Beth Hebree and Congregation Ayn Yaacov) for decades.

The building’s subsequent owners include a church and the Black Theatre Troupe, and Levine’s crew is now working on stripping away the effects of alterations and years of neglect.

“Right now, it’s more intact than I even anticipated,” Levine said. “A lot of it wasn’t destroyed; it was just buried under walls and different layers.”

Levine’s intention is to restore the building to its original appearance with some modern digital updates that will make it an ideal venue for a wide range of activities, from film screenings and exhibits to lectures and lifecycle events. Levine anticipates that the building will be ready to use by Rosh Hashanah, which this year begins on Sept. 13. The cornerstone of the building was originally laid just before Rosh Hashanah in 1955.

“It might not have all the bells and whistles, but it will have air conditioning, which it never had,” Levine said.

Beth Hebrew Congregation was co-founded by Elias Loewy, who helped free hundreds of Jews from a French concentration camp. Loewy, who also helped organize the local Jewish Free Loan Association, died before the building was completed. His son, Fred, a French resistance fighter, was also a member of the synagogue.

“There are so many interesting stories that are embodied in this building,” Levine said.

Levine now needs “as much history as possible” on the building to assist in its preservation, he said. Anyone who has photos or other artifacts can contact Levine and/or post them on the building’s Facebook page, facebook.com/BethHebrew.

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