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Jewish Temple in Alexandria celebrates historic accomplishments

The Jewish Temple in Alexandria will celebrate two milestones Sunday, Sept. 21.

Congregation Gemiluth Chassodim is turning 155 years old. Sunday also will mark the unveiling of a bronze plaque. The Temple is now on the National Register of Historic Places as a notable example of the mid-century modern style of architecture.

The angular building incorporates architectural elements associated with Frank Lloyd Wright, and the sanctuary is said to be a work of abstract sculpture with art glass panels that reflect sunlight. Last year, Rabbi Harley Karz-Wagman became the temple’s 25th religious leader. He says the congregation numbers about 100 families.

The building does represent how we come together, but it’s not just the building. It’s the community as a whole and how we connect to the general Alexandria community,” Karz-Wagman said. “They’ve always been very welcoming and very supportive of having a Jewish community here, which is not something that people who don’t know about Central Louisiana would expect.”

Rabbi Arnold Task served the congregation for 22 years. He was rabbi during Hurricane Katrina. He says the Jewish Temple housed six busloads of medical staff from Charity Hospital and the congregation raised money for the families.

“Everything in the building had been in use during that period of time. The building served the needs of Louisiana on a very broad scale,” Task said, who led an effort to get a Holocaust memorial monument erected in downtown Alexandria last year.

The translation of the Synagogue’s name “Gemiluth Chassodim” means acts of loving kindness, Karz-Wagman said. It got the name in the 1850s when the Jewish community helped address the Yellow Fever epidemic in Louisiana.

A dedication and reception is planned for 2 p.m. Sunday with tours of the building, its sanctuary and the Jewish History Museum of Central Louisiana, at 2021 Turner Street next to the Alexandria YWCA.

More information is at Jewishtemple.org.

Chuck Smith brings more than 30 years' broadcast and media experience to Red River Radio. He began his career as a radio news reporter and transitioned to television journalism and newsmagazine production. Chuck studied mass communications at Southern Arkansas University in Magnolia and motion picture / television production at the University of California at Los Angeles. He has also taught writing for television at York Technical College in Rock Hill, South Carolina and video / film production at Centenary College of Louisiana, Shreveport.
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