By Ellen Braunstein, Special to Chicago Jewish News
Jewish life, past and present, is in full revival in Chicago’s Uptown neighborhood, thanks to a development company that sees itself as an integral part of the neighborhoods they serve.
“We are stewards for their health and vitality,” said Alex Samoylovich, co-founder of CEDARst Companies, which is preserving and repurposing the shuttered building of Agudas Achim North Shore Congregation Synagogue. The developer has also encouraged participation in the Uptown Jewish community through the donation of a separate storefront to Chabad of Uptown and F.R.E.E., Friends of Refugees of Eastern Europe. A large immigrant senior population calls Uptown and surrounding neighborhoods home.
Samoylovich, who is Jewish and from Rogers Park, said the Agudas Achim Orthodox congregation will not be repurposed as a synagogue, but will be kept intact and converted into apartments, about 40,000 square feet at 5029 N. Kenmore. The property has been described by the nonprofit advocacy group Preservation Chicago, as “one of the city’s top seven buildings facing imminent demolition.”
“It was in terrible disrepair,” said Executive Director Ward Miller of Preservation Chicago. “Outreach to the development community resulted in several proposals which would have completely demolished the building. We were thrilled when CEDARst stepped in to restore this art deco treasure” built in 1922.
Though the historic building was water damaged, vandalized and maintenance deferred, Samoylovich said that he couldn’t simply stand by and watch it turned to rubble. “The responsibility for rescuing this masterpiece is one we take very seriously. CEDARst is working closely with Preservation Chicago not only to maintain the building’s historic integrity but also to find good homes for many of the building’s important precious relics and artifacts.”
The company has restored many structures in Chicago with a full gut renovation. “We leave remnants for character and story,” Samoylovich said.
One of these pieces is the building’s jeweled-mosaic ark case. The ark, along with several art glass windows, has been donated to the Chabad synagogue.
Two years ago, Rabbi Levi Notik approached CEDARst to find a spiritual center for Uptown’s Jewish community. His prayers were answered by the late Jay Michael, co-founder and his partner Samoylovich. Their families have been involved with Chabad and Jewish communal life for many years. “My heritage helped motivate me to do something good for the community,” Samoylovich said.
“There was no place for many refugees from the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe in this neighborhood to pray for almost a decade,” Notik said. “Immediately, and with an open heart,” Samoylovich donated a large storefront property, centrally located for the congregation.
Since the storefront opened as a house of worship at 1109 W. Lawrence Ave., it also serves as a Jewish learning institute and offers programs and activities for children, seniors and families. It also provides outreach to staff and patients at two neighborhood hospitals.
The Russian community has many seniors living in Uptown and there are about 3,500 young professionals and students moving in, Notik said. “We’ve had tremendous response since the storefront opened almost two years ago. We’re so happy to finally have a place for people to come pray and to congregate.”
To learn more about Chabad of Uptown, visit http://www.uptownjew.com/.