By Steven Friedman
j. the Jewish News Weekly of Northern California 

60-year-old Napa synagogue to get new digs


In less than three weeks, the gutting will begin.

After 58 years of use, the building that houses Congregation Beth Shalom in Napa will be getting a major face-lift.

The synagogue will be gutted, renovated, expanded and modernized. The size of the sanctuary will be increased by 1,500 square feet, a second level will be added to one building and a new conference room will be built. In all, more than 5,700 square feet will be added.

Beth Shalom held its final Shabbat service in its old building on April 12, and now will spend the next 12 months “wandering like the Israelites in the desert,” Rabbi Lee Bycel said.

The new synagogue is scheduled to be ready in April 2014. Until then, the 180-family congregation will alternate worship and classes among a nearby church, school, women’s club building and Congregation B’nai Israel in Vallejo.

“We are taking down our synagogue by choice as we are growing and thriving,” said Ellyn Elson, board president of the congregation, which has 240 members. “The old building was falling apart. The roof was leaking and the building was not ADA [Americans with Disabilities Act] compliant.”

After forming in 1953, Beth Shalom landed its first and only home two years later, buying the city’s Chamber of Commerce building for $1. The building, which dates to 1906, was moved through the streets of Napa to its present site, about five blocks from downtown Napa, and the last renovation was in 1962.

“It’s been our home and the center of Jewish life in Napa for nearly 60 years,” Bycel said.

The current project will cost approximately $2.25 million, Elson said, and is being made possible by donations left by original members of the synagogue.

In addition to a new sanctuary, Beth Shalom will erect a Jewish Center of Learning and a conference center, at a cost of an additional $2.5 million to be raised through a major capital campaign, Elson said.

The architect, David Finn, is the same one who designed Congregation Netivot Shalom’s home in Berkeley. He also did renovations on Berkeley’s Greek Theatre and San Francisco’s St. Boniface Church.

Elson said Beth Shalom’s new building will make use of the original building’s 100-year-old trusses, which ended up hidden behind an acoustical ceiling after the last remodel.

“We are also going to reuse the Aron Hakodesh [holy ark] and inlay it with Jerusalem stone,” Elson added. “There will be hardwood floors, a 26-foot-high ceiling above the bimah, and an outdoor patio area outside the social hall for weddings and other receptions.”

The learning center, which will be completed six months after the sanctuary, will house the congregation’s administrative offices, religious school and a remodeled children’s play area, Elson explained.

Elson said the new building finally will give Beth Shalom some modern features.

“There will be a new roof, ADA-compliant bathrooms, a 21st-century sound system and flat-screen TVs to replace bulletin boards,” she said. “And the [bronze] memorial plaques will [be replaced with] slate, which is more sustainable.”

On Friday, April 19, Beth Shalom will hold its first Shabbat service away from its old building, a block away at Napa Valley Lutheran Church. Not only are clergy there welcoming the Jewish worshippers with open arms, but they also insisted on hosting the oneg, the reception following the service.

For Bycel, former dean of Hebrew Union College–Jewish Institute of Religion in Los Angeles, the new building represents a tipping point for the Jewish community of Napa.

“We need a new building and it’s exciting for the entire community of Napa,” he said. “But what I’m really excited about is [the Beth Shalom community] shaping the vision of what it means to be a relevant and vibrant congregation in the 21st century.”


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