Vilna Shul sees another renaissance
By Dan Murphy
As appeared in the Beacon Hill Times on February 23, 2016
More than 30 years ago after it was saved from demolition, the Vilna Shul is experiencing yet another renaissance as the recently remodeled Jewish community and cultural center expands its wide range of programming.
Its Phillips Street headquarters had closed and was on the chopping block in 1985, when a non-profit acquired it to house the city’s first Jewish museum. Now a historic landmark, the building underwent an extensive exterior facelift last year to replicate its appearance upon opening in 1919, including the restoration of the ornamental wrought-iron fence and gate. And last fall, the Vilna Shul launched “From Broken Pieces to a New Life” – a successful volunteer effort to recondition the folk-art mosaic in its community room that dates back to the Depression-era.
“We have big aspirations and want to make the building as accessible as possible,” said Rosa Kramer Franck, the Vilna Shul’s director of development, suggesting that a bigger restoration project is in the planning stages.
Besides the community effort to save the mural, the building is seeing more activity in decades as it accommodates a growing number of lectures and other community events.
Among the most popular happenings at the Vilna Shul are monthly meetings of its “Havurah on the Hill group,” which Franck describes as a “lay-lead, spiritual experience culminating with an interesting speaker and a kosher catered buffet dinner.” Celebrating its bar mitzvah this year, the group dates back to 2003, and on May 1, several of Havurah’s founders - Andrew Perlman, David Gerzof Richard and Eileen Samuels – will be honored at “Creating Community” – its annual tribute benefit event.
“There is nothing else like it in Boston, where young people gather in an historic place to forge connections,” Franck said.
Other programming of note includes the Vilna Shul’s Adult Learning Kevah ("set practice") group, with lawyers, doctors and professors gathering on a bi-weekly basis; a Young Families group that started two years ago with three neighborhood families and has since grown to 100 participants from across the city; and the “Lifesavers Speaker Series,” which brings people of all faiths together for conversations with inspiring figures who save lives every day.
On Thursday, March 10, “Livesavers” welcomes Dr. Nahid Bhadelia, an infectious diseases physician at the Boston University School of Medicine and the director of infection control and Medical Response at National Emerging Infectious Diseases Laboratory (NEIDL) at Boston University. She will lead a discussion on “The personal and ethical journey of one physician volunteering in West Africa during the Ebola epidemic.”
Looking ahead, Franck said the Vilna Shul intends to continue expanding its programming in an effort to engage more members of the community.
“Clearly a thirst in community for this, and we want to keep growing,” Franck said. “The Vilna Shul is such a jewel and a resource. It’s really magical to see a place once left abandoned now filled with so much activity.”
For more information on the Vilna Shul and its programming, visit http://www.vilnashul.org or call 617-523-2324.