There were only five orthodox Jewish families in Jacksonville when the sentiment for the creation of a traditional Jewish congregation began to crystallize. By 1901 their number had grown to forty, and they realized their dream by incorporating as the Hebrew Orthodox Congregation B’nai Israel on December 6, 1901.
By 1907, the membership of B’nai Israel had increased to seventy-five, and the congregation erected a synagogue on the corner of Jefferson and Duval Streets in the Lavilla neighborhood. The lot was purchased with a down payment of $50 and a total cost of $25,000.
In 1926, the congregation hired a rabbi ordained at the Jewish Theological Seminary of America, who introduced Conservative Judaism and the synagogue-center concept as a means of strengthening and perpetuating Judaism in our growing community. To that end, in 1927 a down payment was made on a more spacious site in Springfield, facing a park at the corner of Third and Silver Streets, while Congregation B’nai Israel assumed a new identity for itself as the Jacksonville Jewish Center.
Over the next thirty-five years, the Jacksonville Jewish Center expanded its facility to meet the needs of a growing congregation. By 1959, the impressive campus of three large buildings housed a two-story main sanctuary complete with balcony and choir lofts, a chapel, library, social hall, school, playground, auditorium/gymnasium, banquet facility, bridal lounge, meeting rooms and offices.
With an eye to the future, property at 10101 San Jose Boulevard in Mandarin was acquired in November, 1963. The following summer, the synagogue’s day camp moved to the new site, where a recreational park with an Olympic-size pool and playing fields had been built. Renovated and improved throughout the years, the synagogue’s summer camp and schools continue to use this facility.
Source: Jacksonville Jewish Center
Three years after the Jewish Center relocated to Mandarin, the Labor Department bought the property for $400,000 and opened it in 1979 as the Jacksonville Job Corps Center to train and educate high school dropouts. The Corps operated at this site for 26 years before moving to a new location in 2005.
The property was bought in 2006 with plans to turn it into luxury housing, but the recession put a halt to any plans.
On April 25, 2011, a fire broke out in the main sanctuary prompting officials to demolish the building. Neighbors believed that it was the homeless who were using the building for shelter that started the fire. Two buildings remain on the property which include a dormitory building and the gymnasium/auditorium.
In 2015, the property was bought once again by a developer with plans to build a mixed-use apartment complex on the site. The plans call for demolishing a vacant dentist’s office next door and restoring the facades of the two historic buildings left on the property. The gymnasium building will converted into 34 residential units with commercial space on the ground floor facing towards Klutho Park. The dormitory will be converted into 16 apartment units.