The “in foreclosure” sign has not yet gone up in front of the Richmond Torah Center in San Francisco, but it will unless a last-ditch fundraising effort succeeds.
The Chabad-affiliated synagogue, located on 10th Avenue near Geary Boulevard, some four blocks from the Presidio, has been a neighborhood staple for nearly 15 years. But a string of financial setbacks resulted in the bank issuing a notice of default on the property this past January.
Debt of more than $45,000 must be paid by mid-June or foreclosure proceedings will begin, according to an open letter to the community written by Elliot Eisenberg, an RTC congregant.
In his letter, Eisenberg appealed for funds to extinguish the debt, hoping to round up 80 donors to give $500 each, and another 20 willing to give $750 each.
Money is not expected to come from Chabad-Lubavitch, as Chabad rabbis are responsible for maintaining the funding of their own synagogues and centers.
“This will clear the liens and reinstate the property,” Eisenberg wrote in his letter, adding, “As a Jew I feel obligated to try and help any member of the Tribe facing a home loss. When that home is also a synagogue, my feelings are enhanced.”
Richmond Torah Center’s Rabbi Ahron Hecht and his wife, Sara, live in the 3,400-square-foot house and raised their 12 children there. The rabbi says up to 50 people attend weekly Shabbat services, with approximately 150 regular donors helping to fund the synagogue (Chabad centers generally do not solicit dues-paying memberships).
Hecht pointed to the Rosh Chodesh program for women and its outreach to unaffiliated neighborhood Jews, including a sizeable Russian-speaking community, as some of RTC’s most vital work.
The prospect of losing both home and shul is scary, but the rabbi said he sees the predicament as an opportunity.
“Our [donor] circle is steady, but we have to go beyond our circle to come up with this large sum of money to push off foreclosure,” Hecht said.
“We’re eternal optimists. The fact that there is interest in the community encourages me not only to reaffirm that what we’re doing is good, but of the importance of expanding.”
The RTC’s financial hole developed over time, but is due largely to the persistent recession, Hecht said, which chipped away at donations and thwarted attempts to refinance his mortgage.
At the same time, Hecht refused to cut RTC programs for children and for Shabbat services — including the feeding of dozens of people on Friday nights, whether they could contribute or not.
“The financial upheaval in 2009 had a really big effect on our donors,” Hecht said. “As we were hoping to continue to grow and keep our doors open even wider, the donations diminished. So here we had expenses continuously growing, and the income was barely steady.”
Hecht said a delay in gaining approval with the federal loan modification program and then the bank’s refusal to refinance the mortgage put RTC in a deep financial hole.
Hecht touted other RTC programming and services, which include Shabbat meals, daily minyan, Torah classes, Hebrew school and childcare. As the rabbi, teaching classes is one of his primary duties, and his favorite.
If the debt is paid off, Hecht said he will have to add a new skill to his tool box: fundraising.
“I believe the [RTC] product is good, the service is genuine and real,” he said. “It’s a question of people finding out about it. Our vision is very much based on the way [the late Chabad Rebbe Menachem Mendel Schneerson] looked at world Jewry and humanity in general. The Rebbe would be proud of the way we’re trying to materialize a vision of a better world.”
For more information about the Richmond Torah Center, visit www.rtchabad.org