Lottery Winner Plans to Buy Simi Temple Site for Church

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Winning $17.1 million in the state lottery was only part of Simi Valley resident Lydia Neufeld's dream.

Neufeld said Monday that she and her husband, Dave, are buying a former synagogue for $900,000 to be used by their church, the New Covenant Pentecostal Church of Simi Valley.

"It's a desire I've had in my heart for quite awhile," said Neufeld, who won the lottery Feb. 22. "Way before we had the money, there was a desire there for us to do this. I think God blessed us because He knew our hearts."

Her congregation, made up of about 35 families, has rented space from the New Beginnings Christian Fellowship Church of God on Sycamore Drive for two years.

The Neufelds, who will get about $685,000 a year after taxes for the next 20 years, said they plan to put about $300,000 down to buy Temple Ner Tamid. They said Simi Valley Bank has already approved a loan to be paid back over 20 years for the balance due.

The temple, which is merging with one in Thousand Oaks, is selling the 3.7-acre site on Appleton Road that includes six classrooms.

The church's pastor, Rev. Jorge Galindo, could not be reached for comment.

Lydia Neufeld, 42, said she hopes to dedicate the new church in August. She said that some time later, she and her husband would like to build low-cost housing for local senior citizens.

"I want to do what's right," Neufeld said. "If you get greedy . . . God giveth, and God taketh away. That's what I believe."

Dave Neufeld, 57, who gave up his job as a fisherman, said the couple and their nine children are still in shock about winning the lottery.

"Talk about a prayer coming true," he said.

Since winning, he said, he and his wife have purchased houses for their parents and recently purchased a new house in Simi Valley for themselves.

"We're kind of hocked up to our ears," he said, laughing.

Meanwhile, members of Temple Ner Tamid said their congregation will merge with the larger Temple Etz Chaim in Thousand Oaks.

They said membership at the Simi Valley temple has been steadily declining for years, from a high of 160 families 10 years ago to 60 families today.

The main reason for the membership decline is the lack of a full-time rabbi for two years, said Blanche Rever, a member of the congregation for 21 years. Rever, who was active in coordinating the merger of the temples, said she is happy that it will remain a place where people can practice their faith "instead of being torn down to make way for some tract homes."

On Sunday, Rever and her family joined other members of the congregation at a farewell picnic on the temple grounds. "We've all joked that if we won the lottery, we would turn around and do the same thing," Rever said. "We would buy a temple in Simi Valley."

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