1st Temple to Open for Ojai Valley Jews
When the sun dips behind the mountains surrounding the Ojai Valley early Friday evening, the first locally organized celebration of the Jewish Sabbath will be observed inside a long-abandoned church.
The moment will culminate months of planning spawned by the dreams of a Jewish family that has lived in the area for just two years.
David Feigin and Nancy Greenfield already have opened escrow on the once-dormant chapel in Meiners Oaks they plan to transform into the valley’s first Jewish temple and cultural center.
“This will be more than just a place to have (temple) services,” Feigin said. “It will be a place for people of all interests and faiths to come together and meet.”
The building is a nondescript meeting hall that has stood vacant since the Ojai Valley Church of Christ merged with another local congregation.
Church officials hung a For Sale sign out front more than a year ago, and have dropped the asking price steadily as months passed with no takers, the building’s listing agent said.
“I’d been driving by it for more than a year and not noticing it,” said Feigin, who is an Ojai Valley realtor and is handling the purchase for what he hopes will become a congregation of Ojai-area Jews.
“It was just two or three months ago when it occurred to me that there are a lot of Jewish people in the area and we could use a place to call home,” he said.
The site is located at 619 W. El Roblar Drive in Meiners Oaks.
Feigin and Greenfield, who are married and have a 3-year-old son, expect more than 100 people to crowd the meeting hall at 7 p.m. Friday to hear Rabbi Don Singer of Malibu deliver the temple’s initial sermon.
Since they started getting the word out among the area’s Jewish community, dozens of people have committed to establishing the temple and services center, Feigin and Greenfield said.
They already have an attorney drawing up articles of incorporation and applying for federal tax-exempt status, Feigin said.
“There seems to be such a need to do this, we were able to get pledges from about 15 people of about half of what it would take for the down payment,” Feigin said.
Feigin and Greenfield have until June 1 to come up with the sale price, which they declined to disclose. But real estate agent Judy Pugh, who is handling the sale for the Church of Christ, said the building was most recently listed at $135,000.
“We did appreciate and acknowledge that the congregation needed some place to assemble,” Pugh said. Opening a temple “is very much in keeping with the spiritual diversity of the Ojai Valley.”
The rabbi at Temple Beth Torah, the Ventura temple that the couple have been attending, also endorsed their efforts wholeheartedly.
“I am touched by the enthusiasm of Jewish people saying they want to get together and express a Jewish presence (in Ojai),” Rabbi Michael Berk said.
“You get this image of Ojai and the people who live there as people who have fled other places,” Berk said. “It is not unusual for those who flee larger communities to begin to miss things they had.”
The couple said they have not formalized their plans for the center because the ongoing success of the temple and Jewish center depends on offering a diversity of activities
“It will be the first temple in Ojai, but we don’t want people to think it’s only a temple,” Feigin said. “For a lot of Jewish people, when they hear the word ‘temple’ it means only religious stuff and turns people off.”
Greenfield said she has been approached about using the center for art classes, Yiddish lessons, senior activities and events for children.
“We’re still kind of discovering our identity,” she said.
Start your day right
Sign up for Essential California for news, features and recommendations from the L.A. Times and beyond in your inbox six days a week.
You may occasionally receive promotional content from the Los Angeles Times.