Connected Communities Project Spotlight: Temple Sinai Jewish History Center

Guest blog by the Sumter County Museum, a Connected Communities grant recipient.

The Sumter County Museum’s 2019 Connected Communities project focuses on increasing local awareness of the museum’s new award-winning Temple Sinai Jewish History Center by presenting high-quality programming that reaches all of Sumter’s diverse residents.  The Sumter County Museum opened the Temple Sinai Jewish History Center one year ago in June 2018 thanks to the foresight and dedication of Temple Sinai members, Jay Schwartz and the late Roger Ackerman, generous contributions from local individuals, businesses, and organizations as well as former congregation members and their descendants, and a 2017 Connected Communities grant.

The Temple Sinai Jewish History Center is located in Temple Sinai, a Reform Jewish synagogue located just down the street from the museum on Church Street in a beautiful and historic 1913 building.  Over the years, dwindling numbers in the temple’s congregation led its members to consider long-term planning for the building itself, if the day comes when the congregation is no longer viable.  In the new partnership, the congregation continues to use the temple sanctuary to conduct Friday night and holiday services, while the museum developed, installed, and oversees a permanent exhibit about Jewish history in South Carolina and Sumter in the adjoining social hall.  The museum also includes a large section devoted to the Holocaust and Sumter’s ties to the Holocaust.

Thanks to the success of the Jewish History Center’s permanent exhibit, Temple Sinai members decided to raise funds for and renovate their former education wing to provide the museum an additional and flexible space known as the Ackerman Hall that can be used for a variety of programming, traveling exhibits, classes, and receptions.  The 2019 Connected Communities grant went towards the Jewish History Center’s first major event, Chamber Music with NYC’s Decoda and Attaaca Quartet, that kicked off a series of educational programming.  These two musical ensembles are nationally acclaimed groups.  Decoda, a Carnegie Hall affiliate, has a mission to promote collaboration and compassion, which is also what the museum seeks to do in the community.

The Temple Sinai Jewish History Center hosted the afternoon concert on Sunday, April 7th to an audience of more than 100 guests of all backgrounds.  The ensembles performed in the Temple Sinai sanctuary, a breathtaking location with amazing acoustics that few Sumter residents had viewed before the Center’s establishment.  Guests enjoyed the high quality of music and the overall experience.  We utilized the new Ackerman Hall to provide guests with a reception and an opportunity to interact with the musicians.

Since this performance, we’ve hosted a Yom HaShoah (Holocaust Remembrance) Day event with the son of a Holocaust survivor as the guest speaker, and later welcomed Mary Burkett who presented her artwork, Beloved: Children of the Holocaust.  We have several exciting programs planned through the next year including hosting a Jewish Historical Society of South Carolina traveling exhibit on South Carolina’s Jewish merchants and a talk by its curator, Lynn Robertson, in August as well as a performance and traveling exhibit from the Anne Frank Center for Mutual Respect in January and February.

The Temple Sinai Jewish History Center has welcomed over 2,500 guests and the numbers continue to grow as more people hear about the exhibit and programs.  With free admission provided for all school groups, the Center has seen middle school, high school, and college students of both public and private schools from five counties.  Sumter County Museum plans to continue developing programming geared towards all ages and backgrounds to reach more of our local population.  This Connected Communities grant helped give the museum the spark needed to start the process.

The Temple Sinai Jewish History Center is open Thursdays and Fridays from 1:00pm to 4:00pm and Saturdays from 10:00am to 1:00pm.  If these hours do not suit, or you’d like to bring a large group, please call the museum at 803-775-0908 to schedule a time.  Admission is $5 for adults and $2 for seniors and students.  As a Blue Star Museum, the Sumter County Museum and its Jewish History Center are free for all active duty military personnel and their families over the summer.  For more information about the Center’s events, please visit the website at www.sumtercountymuseum.org or contact Sumter County Museum Executive Director Annie Rivers at arivers@sumtercountymuseum.org.