The imminent closure of Sherith Israel’s century-old edifice is no surprise. Back in the early days of the Clinton administration, the San Francisco Reform synagogue was informed that it needed to undergo a major earthquake retrofit or shut its doors.
Now it’s time to pay the piper — and pay and pay and pay.
Rabbi Larry Raphael and Peter Samuels, who is leading the fund-raising effort, are incredibly optimistic they can raise the necessary $20 million for a retrofit. Should that occur, the temple’s doors would be closed only for a year, two at the most. We hope they are right.
But we don’t need to remind our readers that $20 million is a lot of money, and a number of local Jewish organizations’ ambitious capital campaigns have stalled recently. And while Samuels seems undaunted by Sherith Israel’s precipitous loss of membership in the last five years, including some of its wealthiest congregants, such losses seem pretty hard to ignore.
We wish Sherith Israel all the luck in the world in this endeavor, but it’s not going to be a slam-dunk. In fact, Sherith Israel may need to think way, way outside the box to solve this problem. Perhaps the synagogue would do well to get by with a little help from its friends, and merge or share space with another San Francisco congregation — or two.
We can think of a few, including Conservative synagogues. There is not only precedent for that around the country, but right here in San Francisco at Congregation Beth Israel-Judea, which is affiliated with both movements.
Possible Conservative candidates to partner with Sherith Israel:
• Congregation B’nai Emunah, which will soon lose its longtime rabbi, Ted Alexander, to retirement.
• Congregation Ner Tamid, which has a part-time rabbi, Moshe Levin, and a largely elderly memebership.
• Congregation Beth Sholom, the city’s largest Conservative synagogue, whose rabbi, Alan Lew, also is retiring. The congregation would like to put up a new building, but is reportedly stalled at roughly 60 percent of its own $20 million fund-raising goal.
The sale of any of those synagogues’ current homes would go a long way toward meeting the retrofitting fund in a building that could serve a broader population.
Yes, our proposals are bold. But this is more than a single-synagogue issue. Sherith Israel’s problem requires a community solution.
Let’s think about what we bequeath to the next generation. A thriving synagogue in a beautiful building might have a much brighter future than a smattering of smaller congregations. Let the talks begin.