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Klezmer concert offers glimpse of Congregation Beth Israel's new roof

Audience members settling into their seats in Congregation Beth Israel’s O’Mansky Hall last Wednesday evening were able to savor a blend of old and new musical traditions performed by San Francisco Yiddish Combo. The new roof they saw on the way in represented a similar connection of past and future.

While they were at the festive event, visitors had the chance to notice more than comfortable new seat cushions and freshly painted walls. They were be able to see the results of a painstaking project to renovate the synagogue’s slate roof, which entailed restoring five distinctive domed metal cupolas, brick parapets and other features that help make the historic building a familiar landmark for Charlottesville residents and visitors.

"It’s a great opportunity to celebrate the new roof above our main sanctuary," Lukas Holldorf, communications and connections manager for Congregation Beth Israel, told The Daily Progress.

The roof on the building at 301 E. Jefferson St. dated to 1904, and it was repaired in 1948 after an extensive sanctuary fire. As Diane Hillman pointed out, that meant the roof over the sanctuary was 100 years old in some places and 75 in others, which meant it was time to make changes to prevent deterioration.

The task wouldn’t be a simple one. When contractor Martin Horn sent a drone to examine the roof from above, "what came back was very scary," said Hillman, past congregation president at the temple. To preserve the beloved synagogue for future generations, "we undertook to replace it," she told The Daily Progress. "It was a mind-blowing amount of estimated costs."

Congregation Beth Israel’s space is the oldest synagogue still standing in Virginia. It originally was built at the corner of Market and Third streets in the 1880s and then moved to its current space after the local government sought the Market and Third location for a new post office, which later became the Jefferson-Madison Regional Library’s Central Library. The current worship space on East Jefferson Street was dedicated in February 1904.

Crews from W.A. Lynch Roofing Co. started the recent renovations by removing the cupolas. One cupola hinted at a mystery that’s unlikely to be solved any time soon.

"There was a bullet hole that went through one side and out the other," Hillman said. "The Lynch people were brilliant, and they were able to repair [the cupolas]. They made them better."

Using proper materials for an historic building can send costs soaring, so the congregation started accepting donations and began a GoFundMe drive with a $250,000 goal. The original roof tiles were made of Buckingham slate, which organizers discovered is no longer available, so Virginia slate was selected for replacement tiles. Holldorf said the Virginia slate has a slightly different color and shape.

Lynch roofing workers saved 100 of the original slate tiles, which the congregation is transforming into keepsakes by etching them with a photograph of the building.

"Every place we turned, there was another exciting thing," Holldorf said. "That place is filled with a lot of memories for people. You can tell it is a special, beloved place."

The scaffolding and bustle of the ongoing roof project attracted curious community members, and Hillman said it was gratifying to get encouragement and supportive comments from pedestrians and dog walkers.

"Many people enjoyed following the process," she said.

M3 Masonry and Design completed necessary masonry repairs throughout the process. Even while the building was sheathed in scaffolding, members gathered for reform and conservative worship services. "We are a growing congregation," Holldorf said. "We need this space, and we need it to work."

Work began in November and concluded in April. Congregation members were pleased to see the synagogue "restored in such a loving, thoughtful way," Holldorf said, and they threw a party to toast the completion of the renovation project in May. Last Wednesday’s gathering for klezmer music and refreshments with the community is "a good opportunity to have yet another party," Holldorf said.

The congregation’s GoFundMe remains open, and donations toward the remaining "CBI Raises the Roof" goal are welcomed at


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