Synagogues and ballparks typically have nothing to do with each other. In South Bend Indiana there is one exception. An abandoned synagogue built in 1901 as the city’s first Jewish house of worship has been renovated and reborn as the team store for the South Bend Cubs’ minor league baseball team. In 1901, the synagogue was located at the center of town complete with kosher butcher shops and bakeries that you could smell from miles away. The community quickly flourished and experienced incredible growth. Accountants, lawyers, and many other small businesses migrated to South Bend. After many decades of prominence, the neighborhood changed as most do. The synagogue closed and remained a forgotten about piece of history until Andrew Berlin purchased the empty building.
When Berlin purchased the then named Silver Hawks in 2011, the synagogue was vacant and was located just outside the stadium walls. He poured more than $4 million of his own money into stadium improvements designed to increase ticket sales (which it did), and originally planned to build a new team store.
Instead of building a team store, Berlin spent $1 million renovating the synagogue, including $40,000 for restoring the original chandelier alone; tore down the left field wall; and pushed the fence out and around the building to bring it into the ballpark – even though that effort was much more costly than new construction.
According to Andrew Berlin, Owner of the South Bend Cubs’, “Our fans absolutely admire the synagogue and respect it’s admittance into the National Registry of Historic Places.” Berlin met with three rabbis (orthodox, conservative, and reformed) before renovation to gain their approval and ask what the Jewish community would like to see in the renovation. Once a synagogue is no longer used as a synagogue, it ceases to be a synagogue. The community of South Bend was excited to see the vacant rat infested building returned to a beautiful edifice. Miraculously, no graffiti or vandalism was discovered at the revered temple.
Berlin told me, “One day I want to be bar-mitzvahed here.”