Upon its construction on Charter Oak Avenue in 1876, Temple Beth Israel became Connecticut’s first purpose-built synagogue. With its twin domes and arched doors and windows, it also became an architectural jewel of the neighborhood. The congregation moved to West Hartford in 1935, but with the Charter Oak Cultural Center now operating there, the place remains as vibrant as ever, hosting everything from art exhibits and performances to free after-school programs for local kids.
But there’s a problem. As fund raisers put it: “The Rose Window, or more accurately the installation of multiple windows that form a visual centerpiece for our Bimah, is in serious disrepair. Nearly a century-and-a-half of harsh weather conditions have led to a potentially irreversible degradation of the stained glass, the frame, and the Bimah’s structural integrity. In short: it is in danger of collapse!”
A GoFundMe page has been set up for those interested in helping to restore the windows. Donations go to the Charter Oak Temple Restoration Association Inc., a certified charity.
Ritter, a North Carolina native who came to Hartford in 1969, may be best known outside the city for his three unsuccessful runs for mayor, in 1979, 1993, and 2001. But he was best known around the city as an activist for those who lacked political power, particularly the poor and sick.
For instance, as the Courant notes, “Ritter had long been a voice for those living in Hartford’s public housing, much of it dilapidated, ridden with vermin, and difficult for the elderly and disabled to navigate. In 1977, his Brookfield Street church was ransacked after he spoke at a rally for low income tenants, the sixth time in 12 months his church had been burglarized … Earlier that year, its windows had been shot out after Ritter led a demonstration to rid a housing project of rats and roaches.”
In the 1990s, he pushed for giving those living HIV/AIDS a publicly funded apartment building on Wethersfield Avenue. That failed amid controversy–it was opposed by neighbors and even some HIV/AIDS activists who feared creating something of a leper colony–but Ritter and other clergy eventually opened a building on Homestead Avenue for people living with HIV/AIDS and their families, called Zezzo House.
According to his obituary, a memorial service will be held at 4 p.m. on Sunday, October 28, at the Victory Cathedral, at 205 Bellevue Street.
By the way, if you’re wondering where Warburton Community Congregational Church got its name, check out this great article on the Historic Buildings of Connecticut site.