After 22 months of restoration efforts following Hurricanes Matthew and Irma, the historic St. Augustine synagogue, First Congregation Sons of Israel, recently reopened its sanctuary back to the community.
“It’s a lot of joy,” congregation president Les Stern said. “We’re just glad that all this hard work is coming to an end. We’re again in the sanctuary and it’s filled with happy voices and singing voices. It’s just great.”
The congregation celebrated the reopening with a ribbon cutting ceremony on Aug. 24 that was followed by wine and cheese and tours, and an evening service. The ensuing weekend featured an array of activities in the sanctuary, including services, tours, silent auctions, music and more. The reopening of the sanctuary and ensuring services provided for the first Sabbath service held there since Oct. 7, 2016.
“I get chills now thinking about it,” longtime congregation member Rene Naughton said. “The only thing that was the only constant was the synagogue, and then it was gone. … It’s good to be back.”
Renovations to the sanctuary included the installation of a new roof and ceiling, restoration of the original wood floors, installation of a replica of the original front doors, restoration and reinstallation of the vintage seating and other repairs. The restoration and repairs were financed with assistance from the Jewish Federation of Jacksonville, the Northeast Florida United Way, the generosity of many members and friends of the congregation and disaster assistance from the U.S. Small Business Administration.
Jerry Dixon served as the design architect, while Jeremy Marquis completed the exterior architecture. Mike Derring of Beachside Builders served as the builder, and a handful of Flagler College students helped with the design and painting of the Star of David that is placed on the ceiling. Flagler students also helped design the invites for the reopening event and redesign the website.
The congregation is currently accepting donations for further enhancements of the synagogue, including its social hall, spaces for classes, bathroom and kitchen. Visit for more information. First Congregation Sons of Israel is located at 161 Cordova Street.