"This is the temple of your dreams."
So says Rabbi Yitzchak Nadler — who may just be a little bit biased — about the new building to where he reports for work: the Northern Tahoe Hebrew Congregation.
Nadler, who has been serving the Lake Tahoe community since 1991, said he's long believed in the philosophy that the congregation itself is more important than the building.
Especially since in the past, the North Shore congregation held its services in a church, a convention center and even a casino.
"People always come and say, 'Oh, let's see the place,' and when you don't have that, you have to introduce the people. It's better that way," said the former rabbi of Congregation Ner Tamid in San Francisco.
But now Nadler has had to shift his thinking on the matter. And now that the building is there, he seems to be getting used to the idea.
"The casino is what really motivated us to get a building," recalled Ernie Grossman, a past president and chair of the building committee. "It was Yom Kippur and in between chants was the ka-ching of the slot machines. We said, 'This can't happen anymore.'"
It wasn't only the distracting noises of gambling, though, that inspired the congregation to find a permanent home. Grossman said 9/11 had a profound effect on the decision as well.
"We were right at the crossroads of whether to build or not, and we still hadn't raised enough money," he said. "But it so stirred our emotions that we said we would build no matter what, we would find the way to make it happen, and we did."
While the temple is affiliated with the Reform movement, members prefer to characterize it as "Reconservadox," because "when you're in a small town, one place fits all," said Nadler.
At the time ground was broken for the synagogue in October 2001, $1.6 million still needed to be raised. Now, although the building is finished and in use, they still need to raise another $850,000.
"Maybe good businesspeople wouldn't have proceeded," said Grossman, "but it was a matter of conscience and deep emotion for us, and we said, 'We're going to make it happen.'"
Congregants describe the building as "Tahoe-esque," a two-story wooden structure that blends into its surroundings, offering a view of the lake. It also houses a Jewish Community Center.
"The building itself is just so beautiful and lends itself to the area and the congregation, it's a perfect fit," said Nadler.
"We deliberately made it into a JCC and synagogue," said Grossman, "and it will be available to the community for events with minimal fees, with benefits to members." (The synagogue's Web site is www.tahoetemple.org)
Grossman said he hopes at least some of the debt will be covered by the many Jewish families who have second homes in the area. He hopes that "they'll recognize this is a second home for them also.
"We function as an oasis," he said. "A lot of people come through Lake Tahoe and have second homes here and like the idea of a Jewish presence. But for the help of those kind of people, we really couldn't exist as a formal congregation, so we need that."
Describing himself as "thrilled beyond belief," Grossman said, "what's happening is it's becoming a focal point for the Jewish community."
And while there used to be Shabbat services twice a month, since the building opened, services are now held every Friday.
"Now there's a real continuity," said Nadler. "The kids seem a lot more comfortable and are starting to treat it as home."