PROVIDENCE – Despite the snowstorm on Jan. 30, 11 enthusiastic Providence College students and their professor, Keith Morton, attended a tour of the “Artifact” at 24 Douglas Ave.: the Rhode Island Jewish Museum.
The museum, housed in the Sons of Jacob Synagogue, was selected as one of nine destinations to be explored in the course “The City and Its Artifacts.”
Most of the students said they had never before set foot in a Jewish house of worship, although some mentioned Jewish connections via a Jewish relative or attending a Bar or Bat Mitzvah. However, they said that none of them had been in an Orthodox synagogue that was founded in 1896 and is the last of a dozen houses of worships that once flourished in the Smith Hill neighborhood.
During the tour, the students nodded in appreciation as they spotted items on their artifact list. But when the doors to the second-floor main sanctuary were opened, they let out a collective gasp, their eyes literally widening at the immense, awe-inspiring, brightly illuminated mural-laden room.
After exploring the incredible collection of murals, memorials and period furnishings in the sanctuary, a chronology of events leading to the building’s construction was shared, as well as information about the founders and the current use of the building. The unanimous sentiment was that the Sons of Jacob Synagogue building must be saved.
After the visit, the students sent a group email asking to be involved in the preservation efforts. Professor Morton also sent an email, stating that the students “were really inspired by your stories, hospitality and wisdom. The physical space of Sons of Jacob made a big impression, too – seeing the beauty in the building, and something of the Herculean task you are undertaking to restore it. Such a labor of love.”
SHELLEY PARNESS is vice president of the Rhode Island Jewish Museum.