Shortly before sundown Friday, members of the newly formed Jewish Community of the Oaks held their first Shabbat in the small church building that as of this week became their own temple.
Escrow on the abandoned Meiners Oaks chapel closed last week, culminating months of anticipation for the group of Ojai Valley Jews.
"Now we have something that is ours," said Karen Rubin, an organizer of the group. "Hopefully, that will bring about a whole new sense of community."
The group has held informal services in the nondescript meeting hall during the past few months, but Friday's Shabbat service--or Jewish Sabbath--marked the first time the loosely organized congregation has assembled in its own building.
"I would describe it as a meeting place for Jews of all sorts," said David Feigin, who has been involved in the purchase of the building and organization of K'hilat Ha'Aloneem, Hebrew for Community of the Oaks. "It's a place for us to make happen whatever we want to have happen, that means if we want to do services there, great, we'll do services," Feigin said recently. "It won't be branded, just a safe place."
The building, located at 619 W. El Roblar Drive in Meiners Oaks, has stood vacant since the Ojai Valley Church of Christ merged with another local congregation. Feigin, an Ojai Valley realtor, opened escrow on the chapel earlier this year.
About 160 people attended the first Shabbat at an informal service in March, Feigin said, and interest in the group has since grown to about 220 families.
"There's never been anything like this up here for Jewish people," Feigin said. "Our goal is to meet the needs of the community."