Home at Last

Article Published: Jun. 7, 2012 | Modified: Jun. 7, 2012
Home at Last

Chuck Lieberman, president of the Boone Jewish Community, stands in the new Temple of the High Country in Boone. The temple congregation is preparing for a June 22 dedication ceremony.
Photos by Karen Sabo

For decades, the local Jewish community has moved from private houses to university classrooms to Christian churches.

Now, it finally has a permanent home on King Street in downtown Boone.
The Temple of the High Country/Schaefer Jewish Community Center is nearly ready for its dedication on June 22.

According to the Temple of the High Country website, a group of Jews began congregating to worship in various locations around Watauga County in 1974.

Chuck Lieberman, the current president of the congregation, moved to Boone in 1980. He said that in that era, a “circuit rider” rabbi from Charlotte used to visit Boone and other rural areas in order to lead worship for small Jewish communities.

The Boone Jewish Community met for 10 years in the basement of Audrey and Victor Hersch. The group also used the downtown Unitarian church. The congregation has met in private homes in University Village and on Dogwood Lane, and used to gather at St. Luke’s Episcopal when it was on the Appalachian State University campus.

The new St. Luke’s on Councill Street currently welcomes Jews for Friday night services. Lieberman said, “They’ve been terrific to us.”

St. Elizabeth’s Catholic Church has long opened its doors to the Boone Jewish Community for the autumn High Holy Days, the heavily attended holidays of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. The church allowed the Jews to hang cloth over the crosses in the sanctuary and also installed a stained-glass Star of David as a symbol of friendship.

The new temple will normally seat 100 people, but with removable walls, the sanctuary can seat 230. The membership of the temple consists of 150 families, but only a dozen or so attend services all year round, with the number swelling during the summer months.

Lieberman said this was not the first attempt to build a synagogue for the congregation. Years ago, a donor gave the temple $10,000 for a building that never came to fruition.

“We were too small a congregation,” Lieberman said. “After several years, we gave his money back. Nothing happened.”

The funds for the new building are from many generous families, but nearly half the money was given by philanthropists Jamie and Bonnie Schaefer, owners of Westglow Resort in Blowing Rock.
“They contributed the first million dollars and the services of their architect,” Lieberman said.

In return, they requested that the building be named the Schaefer Center, that they and their architect oversee the design elements, and that the sanctuary be built large enough to house the crowd that attends the High Holy Day services.

In addition to Friday evening services, Lieberman hopes that others will join him for study Thursday mornings. The Schaefer Community Center will house the Jewish film festival and welcome ASU’s Hillel, the local branch of a national collegiate Jewish life organization.

Other groups have inquired about using the new synagogue, but, according to Lieberman, they’re not currently accepting all requests. “We’re going to be cautious the first year,” he said.

The construction company broke ground last year, with a projected completion date of September 2012. Because of the mild winter, building is ahead of schedule. A dedication is tentatively planned for June 22, depending on whether the building inspector grants a certificate of occupancy, an act Lieberman calls “the hurdle of hurdles.”

All are welcome to the 6 p.m. dedication, as well as to the Sabbath evening service following the ceremony.

The Temple of the High Country/Schaefer Jewish Community Center is on the corner of King Street and Poplar Grove Connector in downtown Boone.

Lieberman encourages the local Jewish community to support the temple, describing the new building as “a beautiful … and modest affair. I hope the congregation justifies its existence.”

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