Jewish Charlotte, A City of Art and Culture

Jewish Charlotte, A City of Art and Culture

From Shalom Park to public art, the city’s Jewish connections are everywhere.

Robyn Spizman Gerson is a New York Times best-selling author of many books, including “When Words Matter Most.” She is also a communications professional and well-known media personality, having appeared often locally on “Atlanta and Company” and nationally on NBC’s “Today” show. For more information go to

Temple Israel’s breathtaking sanctuary exterior, with stained glass windows. (Photo Courtesy of Temple Israel).
Temple Israel’s breathtaking sanctuary exterior, with stained glass windows. (Photo Courtesy of Temple Israel).

What do you get when you mix an affluent Jewish community with the arts, culture, and southern hospitality? The answer is Charlotte, North Carolina, an easy to drive-to destination that stands on the shoulders of generous donors and transformative philanthropic visionaries.

This close-by geographic journey proved that “it’s a small world when you’re Jewish” at our very first stop. A well-researched list of must-visit venues and (pre-approved) appointments was generously orchestrated by my husband Ed’s wonderful cousins Anita and her husband Marvin Shapiro, a retired internist who settled in Charlotte in 1973. After a four-hour car ride from Atlanta with sister and brother-in-law Esther and Mike Levine on board, we arrived at Shalom Park, Charlotte’s 54-acre tree-laden, meticulously landscaped campus.

Shalom Park embraces the pulse of Charlotte’s Jewish life and is home to most of the local Jewish organizations, including Temple Israel, the Conservative synagogue, and Beth El, the Reform synagogue, along with the Sandra and Leon Levine Jewish Community Center, the Charlotte Jewish Day School, the Charlotte Jewish Preschool, Jewish Family Services, the Jewish Federation of Greater Charlotte, JCC’s Camp Mindy, the Federation’s monthly Charlotte Jewish News, and so much more. Shalom Park is a magnificent Jewish world unto itself, supported by the entire community, and welcoming all to utilize its facilities, including the soon-to-be-built “Home of Generations” retirement community.

Temple Israel interior stained glass.

The first visit Anita coordinated was to their synagogue, Temple Israel, erected in 1992. Founded 125 years ago, the congregation was established by a small group of families, which has grown to 540 families today. Greeted by Rabbi Michael Wolk who, during the COVID-19 pandemic, visited the backyards and patios of over 100 families to connect with his congregation. Formerly a rabbi in Louisville, Kentucky, Rabbi Wolk’s personable, neighborly greeting was meaningful and his pride in Temple Israel was evident.

We were also welcomed by the synagogue’s vivacious membership director, Erin Goldstein, whose grandmother, Geraldine “Gerry” Ashkenazi, was the executive director of Ahavath Achim in Atlanta for decades. We toured Temple Israel, this exquisite semi-circular sanctuary and architectural masterpiece that features floor-to-ceiling stained glass windows majestically adorning the sanctuary with an exquisite palette of primary colors. The windows depict the biblical narrative from Creation to the entry of the Israelites into the Promised Land. Time capsules from decades ago are thoughtfully built into the cornerstone of the building.

The Firebird or Le Grand Oiseau de Feu sur l’Arche sculpture by Niki de Saint Phalle in front of the Bechtler Museum with cousins (L to R) Marvin and Anita Shapiro, Ed Gerson, and Esther and Mike Levine.

On the other side of the campus was Temple Beth El, the Reform temple in Charlotte, with its façade reminiscent of Jerusalem. As you drive around Shalom Park, you will marvel at the architectural masterpieces. One minute it’s modern, and the next there’s a peaceful feeling of the old world. The Sandra and Leon Levine JCC, a sprawling red-brick building ominous in scale, is the centerpiece of Shalom Park’s campus. Filled with art that includes pieces donated by local collectors of esteemed glass artist Jon Kuhn, the main entry features halls of glass and beautiful artwork from well-known artists.

From a Judaic library and resource center to the Blumenthal Center and so much more, Shalom Park leaves no stone unturned. A particularly beautiful sculpture, The Levine JCC Butterfly Project, honors the 1.5 million children who perished in the Holocaust. Designed by local artist Paul Rousso, the sculpture is adorned with almost 6,000 ceramic butterflies created by the city’s faith, school, and community groups. At every turn, this community is immersed in an artistic expression of purposeful connection. (

As you travel around Charlotte, even the street signs reflect the generosity of Jewish donors. At first glance, you’ll see the Levine Avenue of The Arts. We visited the Mint Museum of Craft and Design, a spectacularly curated collection representing many distinguished artists from around the world. Charlotte is filled with galleries like the Bechtler Museum of Modern Arts, the Harvey Gantt Center, and the Luski Gallery at the Foundation for the Carolinas, a stunning collection of glass and paintings that celebrates the philanthropy of artful giving. Be sure to check the Blumenthal Performing Arts Center ( for upcoming schedules of events and entertainment, as well as the Levine Museum of the New South. (

Stunning interior at The Grand Bohemian. (Photo Courtesy of The Grand Bohemian)

For lodging, check out the Grand Bohemian Hotel Charlotte, an aesthetically inspired hotel, which is located at the corner of Trade and Church Streets in Uptown Charlotte, a vibrant district filled with museums, entertainment, and dining. Created by Richard Kessler, the Kessler Collection is a visionary family-owned and operated boutique hospitality brand with luxury properties in cities such as Charleston and Savannah. In search of an architect, Kessler hired Gensler Atlanta, whose team was challenged to design the hotel during the building phase. This 16-story, 254-room hotel features a spa, fine dining restaurant with indoor and outdoor lounge seating, and a “park bar.” The lounge and bar on the first floor offer a variety of seating options, while the 16th floor houses the spa, a 24-hour fitness center, and a luxe rooftop bar with unparalleled views of Charlotte.

Charlotte residents enjoy Gleiberman’s Kosher Mart, a Glatt Kosher food grocery. Additional activities include the Panthers stadium, Charlotte’s Meyers Park, the NASCAR Hall of Fame, Wing Haven Garden & Bird Sanctuary, Discovery Place, Daniel Stowe Botanical Gardens in Belmont, as well as a visit to the U.S. National Whitewater Center for rafting.

When traveling back to Atlanta, make a quick stop in Greenville and enjoy a picnic downtown at the beautiful Falls Park on the Reedy, located at the intersection of S. Main Street and Falls Park Drive. Back on the road, add a pit stop at any of the nearby fruit stands and check out whatever is in season from local farmers.

Charlotte’s southern hospitality is evident, and the only challenge you may face is not having relatives as hospitable as ours. Start at Shalom Park, and my guess is that they’ll have you at “hello.”

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