Vilna Shul Begins Renovation Project Marking its 100th Anniversary

To commemorate its 100th anniversary as “Boston’s Center for Jewish Culture” next year, the Vilna Shul is currently undertaking an extensive renovation of its historic synagogue at 18 Phillips St. to bring the building into the 21st century.

Phase One of the project, which is expected to take 10 months to complete, includes: providing universal access to the building by adding a new daily entrance and side walkway, as well as an ADA-compliant lift and restrooms; creating a 100-person-capacity community room, a visitor center and a gift shop, a multi-use interactive educational classroom, a family room and administrative offices; restoring/reproducing a portion of the decorative murals in the sanctuary and foyer; installing state-of-the-art audio/visual systems in all event spaces; and upgrading the HVAC and humidity control systems.

“The first phase gives us the universal accessibility, which is the most important part of the project,” said Barnet Kessel, the Vilna Shul’s executive director. “It’s a 99-year-old building that wasn’t designed thinking about wheelchairs, walkers and canes.”

Phase Two of the project entails restoration of the remaining murals in the sanctuary while Phase 3 includes enhancing the educational infrastructure and establishing an endowment.

The capital campaign, led by co-chairs Deborah Feinstein and Marilyn Okonow, has almost secured the $4 million needed to cover the first phase of the project, but it now must raise an additional $2.5 million and $3 million to underwrite the second and third phases, respectively.

“We’re so proud that we’re so close to securing $4 million for the first phase of the project, but we ‘can’t stop to smell the roses,’ so to speak,” Kessel said. “We’re setting it up for its second century of life.”

While the synagogue has temporarily closed its door and the administrative offices have moved from Phillips Street to another downtown location for the duration of Phase One of the project, the Vilna Shul will continue to offer programming at other venues throughout the city in the interim.

“Our goal is to be the center of Jewish life in Downtown Boston for everybody, because ‘everybody’ is a bit of poetry for us, meaning the young, the not-so-young, residents from Beacon Hill and the whole city – Great Boston and beyond – as well as the thousands of tourists who visit us each year,” Kessel said. “And most importantly, for the Jewish and not Jewish.”

If you’re interested in making a capital gift to the Vilna Shul, contact Barnet Kessel at [email protected].

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