Community pride at foundation of Sinais new building

For two years, Temple Sinai held its youth programs at Merritt College, where a collection of portable classrooms became known as the Temple Sinai Village.

That village finally has come home to downtown Oakland.

Construction is complete on Sinai’s new building at 2808 Summit St., near the intersection of Broadway and 28th Street, where the synagogue has existed since 1914. Tours are available.

The new and improved Temple Sinai has an additional 18,800 square feet of space for its 950 member-households.

“Whereas a few years ago we would have had to apologize for the state of our building, now we walk through the halls with pride,” said Paul Geduldig, executive director.

Temple Sinai’s expanded grounds include a modern chapel, a meditation garden and green features.

The improvements include a new contemporary chapel that seats 220, with an open floor plan that allows flexible seating so the space can be used for Shabbat services or receptions. Attached to the chapel is a crying room, a soundproof space where parents can take fussy children and still see and hear services.

The chapel also has a view of a new meditiation garden. The 1,450-square-foot outdoor area can be used for receptions, events and learning, or just quite contemplation.

“You walk into the building and you really feel like you’re in holy space,” said Rabbi Steven Chester.

The new building has nine classrooms for religious school and adult education, and six additional classrooms designed for preschool classes, all of which have access to outdoor space and a playground.

Prior to the expansion, staff had to change the configuration of the synagogue’s classrooms multiple times a day to accommodate preschool, religious school, Midrasha and adult meetings. “It was very taxing on us to share and organize the space,” Geduldig said.

Local architects Michael Harris and Mark Horton (MH2) teamed up for the project, which incorporated the congregation’s vision and ideas, according to Arnie Brown, immediate past president.

That input resulted in an art room, living room, teen lounge and library. Sinai members also wanted as many green features as possible. To that end, the building features drought-tolerant landscaping, energy-saving lights on timers and space for bike parking and storage.

“I think everybody is just blown away by how beautiful the building is,” said Dena Belzer, a city planner and lay leader who chaired the facilities committee.

“The thing I’m thrilled about is that this is an urban synagogue,” Belzer added. “It’s on multiple levels, it’s compact, it has beautiful views of downtown Oakland. We made a longstanding commitment to keep our urban location, and we retained our commitment to this neighborhood.”

The 96-year-old sanctuary, a historic landmark, was preserved. Later this month, new carpet will be installed and the bimah will be lowered to “bring the clergy closer to the congregation,” Chester said.

Another innovation at the Reform synagogue is a state-of-the-art audiovisual system that will provide live online video for some bar and bat mitzvahs, weddings and holiday services, giving a front-row seat to out-of-town relatives or homebound congregants.

The technology also will be used to facilitate communication between children on an Israel trip and their parents. “We’re excited about the different possibilities … and hope it can be a resource for the whole community,” Geduldig said.

In the early 1990s, Sinai began purchasing residential and commercial properties near the synagogue (four in all) so that when the congregation was ready to expand, it would have the space to do so.

Nearly three-fourths of the congregation has contributed to the synagogue’s $15 million capital campaign, themed “im tirtzu,” Theodor Herzl’s quote that translates as “If you will it, it is no dream.”

So far $12.8 million has been raised toward the total, paying for land, property, building fees and relocation during construction.

“Now that we’re back home in the new building, there’s a sense of community and pride that is just palpable … an overarching sense that we’ve accomplished one more thing that we set out to do,” Brown said.

“It was very, very difficult, but we proved we could do it,” he said. “And in typical Temple Sinai fashion, we did it with everybody working together.”

To set up a tour, contact Gabby Volodarsky at (510) 451-3263 ext. 301 or gabby@oaklandsinai.org. Grand opening and dedication scheduled for Oct. 1-3.

Stacey Palevsky

Stacey Palevsky is a former J. staff writer.