SOUTH BEND -- With a flick of a light switch, a part of South Bend history was illuminated Monday.
A crowd gathered at the South Bend Silver Hawks team store -- the former Sons of Israel Synagogue -- to observe a ceremonial relighting of the chandelier that has served in the building since it opened in 1901.
The buffed brass of the ornate fixture glowed in the light from its many bulbs.
The fixture recently underwent a $40,000 restoration, funded by Silver Hawks owner Andrew Berlin.
The lamp had become blackened and fragile over the years. Restoration took two months of full-time work by employees of Light House Electrical Supply in LaPorte.
It is believed that the chandelier originally held candles. It's powered by electricity now, shining a warm glow up on the white tin panel ceiling above and down on the hardwood floor below.
Many members of the local Jewish community attended Monday's ceremony, as did representatives of the United Religious Community.
David Piser, 72, of South Bend, led the countdown to the light being switched on. He attended services there in the 1970s and 1980s. He and his uncle, Mendel Piser, who died in 2007, served as guardians of the building for years and worked to find a new owner and new use for it.
Erwin Karlin, 85, of South Bend, also was at the ceremony. He attended services in the synagogue in the 1930s, when his grandfather, Max Altfeld, was the rabbi there.
"I'm extremely happy they preserved it," Karlin said of both the building and the chandelier. "It brings back a lot of memories." He said he never expected to see the building used again.
Restoration of the chandelier "is representative of what we're trying to do with the Silver Hawks, the stadium and downtown South Bend," Berlin said. The restored building is "a focal point of the whole experience here. It's a special piece of history," he said.
The brick building, now owned by the city of South Bend, is part of the Coveleski Stadium complex.
It is believed to have been the first permanent building of worship constructed for South Bend's Jews. When it opened, it was in the middle of the city's bustling Jewish neighborhood along what is now Western Avenue.
The William Street synagogue's congregation underwent a denominational change in 1982 from Orthodoxy to Reconstructionism, and its name was changed to B'Nai Yisrael. Declining membership brought the end of services there in about 1990.
The building originally had a round west-facing stained glass window. Piser would like to locate it and restore it to the building. Anyone with information about the window is asked to call Coveleski Stadium.
Watch a brief video about the history of Sons of Israel Synagogue:
Staff writer Margaret Fosmoe: