Berkeley synagogue hosts church after fire

On the day before Rosh Hashanah, Rev. Molly Baskette contacted Rabbi Yoel Kahn at Berkeley’s Congregation Beth El with a plea. Her First Congregational Church had been damaged in a fire on Sept. 30, and she needed somewhere to hold services.

“Our immediate response was, ‘If we can make it work, let’s do it,’ ” Kahn said in a phone interview.

First Congregational Church has a history of working with local synagogues that need more space for their larger worship services. Berkeley Renewal congregation Chochmat HaLev regularly holds its Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur services in the church. With one day’s notice, St. John’s Presbyterian Church in Berkeley stepped in to offer space to Chochmat HaLev after the devastating fire at First Congregational.

“It’s pretty extensive [damage] to that building,” Baskette said. “The roof of the sanctuary was consumed, and the damage was compounded by the water damage.”

Baskette hopes she’ll be able to have services there again by Easter. In the meantime, weekly Sunday services will be held at Beth El.

“Everyone has been very accommodating around the issue,” Kahn said. “We have a lot of programming on Sundays, some classes and we have our annual Hanukkah bazaar, so we’re working on the calendar and moving things around.”

The church’s first service at Beth El was held during Sukkot, a holiday that emphasizes hospitality and shelter. The symbolism was not lost on Kahn. “We’ve been talking about all the different ways that we’re hosts [to] refugees, spiritual guests, and it puts our values into action,” he said.

The Beth El sanctuary will be a “restful temporary home,” Baskette said. “It feels warm and transcendent at the same time. So if we have to get kicked out of our home, it’s a fine place to be. And perhaps once we’re on our feet again we can think about doing more programming together with Beth El.” — david a.m. wilensky