1930s Synagogue Going Once, Going Twice...

By Shoshanah Olidort

Published December 30, 2005, issue of December 30, 2005.
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Synagogue, anyone? On eBay, an old, neglected Jewish house of worship in upstate New York is up for bids.

The White Sulphur Springs Jewish Community Center Synagogue dates back to the 1930s. Back then it served a thriving community of Jewish families escaping the city for summer vacations. But the synagogue has been out of commission for several years now. And when auctioneers Peter and Don Nocerino bought it on a tax sale, the place was a mess.

The brothers Nocerino donated the sacred books and scrolls to a nearby synagogue and hoped to restore the structure.

Eventually, though, they decided to sell.

“It’s a great piece,” Nocerino told the Forward, saying that he feels bad about selling it, but hopes it falls into the right hands. So far, Nocerino has not heard from any potential Jewish buyers. But on a site like eBay, he said, there is a greater likelihood that Jewish buyers will surface.

“I would like to see this property get a nice owner who would preserve its character,” Nocerino said, pointing to the synagogue’s stained-glass windows and original brass fixtures as examples of what makes the structure unique in this small town. White Sulphur Springs’ Jewish community is too small to sustain a synagogue.

But Karen Franklin, director of the Judaica Museum of the Hebrew Home for the Aged at Riverdale, sees this as part of a general trend — one she explored in an exhibition, “Culture as Commodity,” which she organized several years ago. The exhibition featured a full range of Judaica items, or items listed as such — from Israeli Coca-Cola T-shirts to vintage seltzer bottles — purchased from sites like eBay, exploring the effect of Internet auctions on Judaica collecting.

Of the synagogue auction, Franklin said, “It’s really the ultimate statement of culture as commodity.”

Sites like eBay have been “changing the marketplace for Judaica” for a while now, Franklin said. But, she quickly added, auctioning off a synagogue “takes this to another level.”






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