Synagogue Will Dedicate Major Expansion Today


The 1,800-family Valley Beth Shalom synagogue, biggest in the San Fernando Valley, is giving itself a long-awaited Hanukkah present today with the near completion of a $10-million expansion project at its complex in Encino.

“We’ve added about 44,000 square feet, about doubling our previous size,” said Rabbi Jerry M. Danzig, executive director of the synagogue.

Senior Rabbi Harold Schulweis will lead the 10 a.m. dedication service today.

Only some stained-glass windows are yet to be installed. New counseling rooms, offices, a youth lounge, classrooms and a new chapel capable of seating 400 people were already in use last week.


One unusual feature is an ark containing Torah scrolls that rotates--making three parchments with the first five books of the Hebrew Bible accessible either to chapel services inside or for smaller outdoor services or weddings. When the ark is turned toward the outside, it faces a patio-like semicircular chapel that can accommodate 150 people, Danzig said.

“I don’t know of any other synagogue that has such a feature,” he said.

The synagogue, which is Conservative Judaism’s largest congregation in Southern California, is also distinctive for pioneering home-based worship and support groups called havurot and for conducting classes for handicapped children.

Synagogue leaders said that they overcame significant hurdles in the $10-million expansion project, including the expense of purchasing nearby properties and building new parking lots.


Synagogue President Colette Segal said that fund-raising experts consulted in 1986 had advised the rabbis that the congregation’s financial goals were unrealistic. “So much for professional fund-raisers,” Segal scoffed.

In the weeks before the dedication service, however, she wrote to synagogue members that the construction, which began in 1988, presented unanticipated challenges. “The city seems to be making new requirements and rules on a daily basis,” she said in the synagogue newsletter.

Danzig was more explicit in an interview. “We expected to finish in March, but we were held up seven weeks alone just because city inspectors said an elevator button had to be square rather than round,” he said.

“It was horrendous,” Danzig said, echoing similar complaints by some Valley area pastors who have recently dedicated new church buildings. “I think we had to pay at least an additional $100,000 to meet changes ordered by building inspectors despite the fact that we followed approved construction plans.”


Although unfamiliar with Valley Beth Shalom’s project, Vic Penera, assistant deputy superintendent in the Los Angeles Building and Safety Department, said Friday that delays are common to every construction program.

“The lay person seems to think there are a lot of changes that are arbitrary, but they are really not,” said Penera, whose department is one of many city inspection agencies that must approve different aspects of construction. “I wouldn’t say that churches or synagogues have any more difficulties than other organizations.”