Agudas Achim Synagogue

Congregation Agudas Achim held its first service in a home on October 25th, 1884. A few years later they bought a church before building a permanent location in 1903. In 1922, Agudas Achim merged with North Shore Congregation Sons of Israel.

The new Agudas Achim synagogue was built in two phased: The first floor, designed by P. Bernard Kurzou, was completed and dedicated on March 11th, 1923. A 2,000-seat sanctuary was added in 1924, designed by Dubin & Eisenberg, who looked to Austria and Germany for design elements. The massive Holy Ark stands 30 feet tall, covered in glittering Italian glass mosaic. A Hebrew school was added in 1948 next to the main building.

By the 1960's though, many of Chicago's Jews were moving to the suburbs. Agudas Achim was hit especially hard by the dispersion. In later years as the congregation shrunk services were held in the basement chapel, with the main sanctuary used only for high holidays. They often had a hard time mustering the ten men needed to start prayers, as dictated by law.

Though vandalism and anti-Semitic crimes increased through the 1990's, the congregation underwent a revival of sorts under Rabbi Philip Lefkowitz, bolstered by a change from conservative Judaism to Orthodox, and an influx of Russian Jews who had left the Soviet Union. The synagogue became a social hub for Russian immigrants, with a Russian choir, library, and social services that helped them adjust to life in America. Donations helped pay for a new roof in 1996, but additional work was needed. The synagogue held its first wedding in over 30 years in 1999, when two volunteers who met while working on the church were married. Plans were made to replace the vacant attached school with a multi-story community center. Though some improvements were made to the building, citations for broken windows, water damage, and a faulty fire escape piled up in 2000.

Restoration efforts suffered another blow after the theft of $8,000 in tools and equipment from the synagogue in 2003. Anti-Semitic graffiti was left by vandals that broke in to the synagogue in February of 2006, leading to strong condemnation by religious leaders and a prayer vigil. The synagogue suffered additional break-ins in 2007: the first resulted in the theft of about $25,000 in audio equipment, and the second happened a week later, with thieves likely looking for money that had been donated to replace the equipment.

Further discord came as Agudas Achim's board of directors removed Rabbi Lefkowitz in 2008 for alleged financial improprieties, shutting down the synagogue just before the start of the high holiday season. The resulting legal fight went through religious and then civil courts, resulting in the property being put up for sale in 2012.

The long vacancy resulted in further decay to the synagogue, and in late 2014, the city briefly ordered that repairs be made or the building would be demolished. Graffiti and vandalism continued to take a toll on the building.

In May of 2016, a development group announced plans to renovate the former synagogue into residential homes. The building has been secured and preliminary work is under way to start the process.