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‘A beautiful sight:’ Forsyth County locals make room for new synagogue and Jewish Community Center
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Rabbi Levi Mentz and his wife take sledgehammers to the already crumbling building. - photo by Sabrina Kerns

Congregation Beth Israel and Chabad of Forsyth invited local leaders and families to put on a hard hat, grab a sledgehammer and help tear down their synagogue on Sunday as they prepare to build a brand new campus.

The event marked the official start to construction for the Synagogue and Jewish Community Center of North Georgia, a project first unveiled in 2020.

As more than 100 people gathered on Brannon Road Sunday afternoon, Rabbi Levi Mentz thanked everyone for supporting the Jewish community in Forsyth and turning the dream of a new, one-of-a-kind facility in north Georgia into a reality.

“The story of our community is one of unbelievable perseverance,” Mentz said. “In a place where so many people said there could never be vibrant Jewish life, every single one of us …. we’ve come together with absolute perseverance to build something incredible that is giving blessing not only to ourselves and to our families but to the entire region.”

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Rabbi Levi Mentz tells the crowd how much of an impact the new Synagogue and Jewish Community Center will have on Forsyth County and beyond. - photo by Sabrina Kerns

Mentz and congregation leaders are planning for the Synagogue and Jewish Community Center of North Georgia to stick around in Forsyth for generations, serving as a gathering place for the entire community.

It will feature a meeting space, daily chapel, library, social hall and two-story school. The project is expected to cost $4.7 million, much of which has been raised through pledges and selling bricks that will line the front entry of the facility and feature the names of donors.

The new facility will replace the current one, which opened as Forsyth’s first synagogue in 2017 in a small house on a 10-acre property bought through donations after Congregation Beth Israel first formed the previous year.

A local student said the current campus reminds him of the synagogue’s humble beginnings, remembering that his bar mitzvah, the first in Forsyth, was held in Mentz’s backyard. Now, local Jewish youth will have a new facility where they can celebrate, make friends and learn about their heritage and religion.

“The journey of this Jewish community has been an incredible part of my life,” he said. “Ever since the bar mitzvah, it’s been completely life-altering meeting people, seeing new people and seeing the community we really do have in north Georgia …. Look at where we are now. From that backyard to this place that we’re going to demolish and rebuild into a beautiful campus for learning and Jewish life.”

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U.S. Rep. Rich McCormick smiles up at Rabbi Levi Mentz before talking to the crowd of attendees at the Demolition and Construction Kickoff. - photo by Sabrina Kerns

U.S. Rep. Rich McCormick, new to District 6, also attended the kickoff to celebrate, telling the crowd that he is looking forward to the opening of this new facility in Forsyth.

“God is faithful, and he’s brought us to this point where you’re going to see something special in this place called Forsyth,” McCormick said. “It’s always been here, but it wasn’t the same as it is today. To see the variety of people coming to this region and to see faith and our relationships continue, I’m really excited about continuing our faith journey together.”

Congregation leaders agreed the new synagogue will have an impact beyond Forsyth County.

Before the demolition of the old campus, Mentz invited Hershel Greenblat up to talk to the crowd. Greenblat is a Holocaust survivor who grew up in Atlanta after his family moved to the area in 1950 when he was 8 years old.

After fleeing for their lives, sleeping in mud barracks and watching as others lost their lives in Austria, he and his family reached liberation and made it to the U.S. Then, nine years later, Greenblat said he was on his way to the north Georgia mountains with a friend when they reached the Forsyth line and noticed something he hasn’t forgotten.

“I see a sign — if you’ll pardon me for just a moment — that sign said, ‘Welcome to Forsyth County. No Jews or [N-words] allowed.’ That was 1959,” Greenblat said.

So when Mentz called him and invited him out to celebrate a new Jewish community center and synagogue in the county funded and supported by locals, he couldn’t quite believe it.

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A local helps one of Congregation Beth Israel’s youngest members swing her hammer into the building sitting on the space where the new Synagogue and Jewish Community Center of North Georgia will be built. - photo by Sabrina Kerns

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A construction crew tears away at Congregation Beth Israel’s old campus on Brannon Road. - photo by Sabrina Kerns
“I don’t know if you realize what a momentous, unbelievable moment this is for, I won’t say for the Jewish people around here, but for the whole Forsyth County community,” he continued. “Our world is still going through hatred. Our world is still going through discrimination. But this is such a beautiful sight.”

Greenblat was the first to don a hard hat and slam the end of a sledgehammer into the old synagogue.

From there, kids and adults alike picked up their own hard hats and hammers, getting to work smashing bricks on the front wall of the building while others enjoyed food provided by the congregation.

Local leaders including McCormick and Forsyth Commissioner Todd Levent also chipped away at the building while a worker operating an excavator took out larger chunks of the roof on the other side of the building.

Soon the building had been fully demolished. After the materials are cleared out, construction for the new facility can begin.

“May God Almighty bless our community so we continue to be a beacon of light not only to this region, not only to this state, but to the entire world,” Mentz said. “When we come together with unconditional love and acceptance, we can make this world a truly brighter and better place.”