Clifford Lander started attending Adas Israel, a historic synagogue in Fall River, Mass., nearly a decade ago. Incorporated in the 1890s, the congregation enjoyed boom years when the city’s manufacturing business thrived. But now, as industry has moved overseas, much of the Jewish community south of Boston has moved on as well. At 70, Lander is among the synagogue’s youngest members.

So after several years of budget discussions, Adas Israel’s leadership – including Lander – decided to put their beloved building up for sale. Lander’s favorite among the potential purchasers was Chabad-Lubavitch of the South Coast, which he says will help maintain a Jewish presence in the city and preserve Fall River’s last traditional synagogue.

“I care about my faith,” explains Lander, the congregation’s vice president. “I care a lot about [the synagogue] continuing. At 70 years old, I wonder what it’s going to be like 25, 50, 100, 200 years from now.”

The Chabad House, which was formed five years ago by Rabbi Aaron and Chani Benjaminson, currently holds monthly Sabbath weekend gatherings at the synagogue. Lander calls the organization an important part of Adas Israel’s future and says the purchase will make the synagogue into a place of study and prayer that will benefit the entire community.

He also points out that the sale will guarantee the preservation of the area’s two Jewish cemeteries.

“It costs money to maintain them,” says Lander.

The final decision rests with the synagogue’s executive committee and board of directors. Although other buyers have expressed interest, the Chabad House emerged as the most ideal candidate, and will likely be signing an agreement of sale soon.

“I want to see kids there. I want to see young adults there,” comments Lander. “I want there to be a continuous Jewish presence in the city of Fall River.”

The Benjaminsons have launched a capital campaign to save the synagogue, looking at a combination of loans and donations to fund the projected $400,000 buy.

“We are very hopeful,” says the rabbi.

Adas Israel’s board wants new life to come to their historic synagogue.
Adas Israel’s board wants new life to come to their historic synagogue.

With approximately 7,000 Jews living in the region, he explains, the weeks-old campaign is a golden opportunity to maintain and grow something special. In addition to people donating directly via the campaign’s website, they’re looking for someone who wants to rename the building, and also at the possibility of a yeshiva coming in.

In addition to helping generate funds, the presence of rabbinical students would allow for more home visits of local Jewish families.

“We’re doing everything at once, basically,” says Benjaminson. “Prayers and money, that’s what we need.”

Brenda Levin, who lives within convenient driving distance of Fall River, hopes to see the synagogue saved because of the positive influence Chabad has had on her life for more than 20 years.

“For me, it’s just about Chabad staying somewhere nearby where I can go to them,” she states.

Having met the Benjaminsons years ago, she’d love to see them have a permanent home in Fall River.

“The warmth, the spirituality, the love of Judaism, the love of children – it’s something I haven’t found in a traditional synagogue,” she says.