Aside from its Christmas theme and a few other details, the movie “It’s a Wonderful Life” does a pretty good job of illustrating how a Chabad house in San Francisco’s Richmond District was saved recently from being forced into foreclosure.
In this case, the character facing a financial crisis was not George Bailey of Bailey Building and Loan, but rather a long-bearded rabbi who has spent much of his life giving to others. But just like in the movie, it was the loving members from the community who came together to save the day.
Rabbi Ahron Hecht of the 15-year-old Richmond Torah Center had the joy last week of giving the happy news to his board of directors — that $49,000 had been donated before a mid-June deadline, which was enough to satisfy the bank and get the center up to speed on its delinquent mortgage payments.
While the scene at the board meeting wasn’t as much of a tear-jerker as the movie finale, when George (Jimmy Stewart) goes home and everybody sings “Auld Lang Syne,” Hecht was just as touched.
“It’s not my custom to speak out and make an appeal for money to the community, so I’m very grateful for how the community came forward,” Hecht said.
“The story in j. [on May 27] was picked up on other websites, and some people from out of town read it and offered their support, too. Many sent a little note, like ‘When I was passing through San Francisco, you were there for me,’ or ‘We came to Shabbat dinner and your wife was so gracious’ … I guess we put out a circle of love and acceptance that came back around.”
Though “very often, you do good deeds and you’re never sure it makes a difference,” Hecht said, that definitely was not the case this time.
Still, the Chabad house isn’t home free. While the $49,000 allowed Hecht to get the property out of foreclosure danger, he still needs to make mortgage payments of approximately $4,700 per month (which includes some $1,300 per month for property taxes). The bank, he said, has refused to do a loan modification.
The three-story, 3,447-square-foot house at 423 10th Ave., built in 1994, is assessed at $1.3 million by the city and at $1.42 million by real estate website Zillow.com. It has nine rooms, including three bedrooms and five bathrooms. Hecht, his wife, Sara, and four of their 12 children (the others are married or off studying) live on the third floor, with Chabad operations on the first and second floors.
“We’re out of the crisis, but still in trouble,” Hecht said. He anticipates being able to stay up-to-date on the mortgage, he added, but still is trying to get a loan modification. “Right now we are current [on the mortgage], but I want to lower our monthly payment if I can.”
Hecht is also trying to expand the center’s revenues, which he said have gone south with the economy. Donations are still being sought, advertising and message space is being sold on the Richmond Torah Center’s annual calendar and a plan to ask people to pay a monthly fee is in the works. Unlike most synagogues, RTC doesn’t charge dues, nor — despite what people might think — does it get financial support from Chabad Lubavitch.
In a letter that went out to the community this spring, RTC congregant Elliot Eisenberg explained how the center was more than $45,000 in debt on its mortgage. Hecht said more than 160 people responded, with 14 giving $1,000 or more and 20 others giving $750 or more.
“Other donations were smaller, but to me, every donation was significant,” Hecht said.
Hecht is also hoping the spotlight on the RTC’s plight brings more people to the center, located a few blocks from the intersection of Geary and Park Presidio boulevards.
“So many people responded, many in San Francisco,” Hecht said. “That means they cared enough to get involved, and that gives me an opportunity to further that relationship.”