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Temple to Celebrate Holiday in New Sanctuary

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

When the wailing of the age-old ram’s horn rings in the Jewish New Year on Wednesday night, congregants of Temple Adat Elohim will be celebrating Rosh Hashana in a new sanctuary.

Although the spacious $2-million building--boasting pure white walls, soothing blue benches, Douglas fir beams and giant, sun-lit windows--is reason for cheering, Rosh Hashana is a time for solemn reflection.

And Rabbi Alan Greenbaum said his sermon for these High Holy Days, which this year mark the 5758th year dating back to the world’s creation, will reflect that soul-searching sentiment.

“Now that we’ve built our home, it’s time to help others,” Greenbaum said.

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For example, he said the temple’s homey old A-frame sanctuary, which served its members for nearly two decades, can be used as a shelter to care for the homeless during the winter.

Also in November, Greenbaum hopes to host an ecumenical Thanksgiving dinner in the new sanctuary, which covers about 13,300 square feet.

“We’ve never had room to have it here before,” he said.

On Friday, the final service was held in the small sanctuary, which holds about 200 people on orange metal-and-plastic seats.

On Sunday, the Reform temple’s 550 members have been invited to the new sanctuary’s dedication service.

Participants will carry Torah scrolls from the old building into the new one in an elaborate procession that was carried out in a similar manner when the temple last expanded in 1979.

Back then, in a symbolic walk of celebration, members carried Torah scrolls down Hampshire Road and Thousand Oaks Boulevard as they moved from the interdenominational Covenant House in Westlake Village to Hillcrest Drive, where the current Temple Adat Elohim stands.

Construction on the new sanctuary began about four years ago and fund-raising started nearly four years before that. About $1 million has been collected from members over years of phone call requests and personal visits, and $1.3 million was borrowed from the community-based Los Robles Bank.

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Although they are thrilled with the bigger, brighter sanctuary, members admit that they are saddened to leave their familiar praying quarters.

“That’s the place where we dreamt about this new place,” said Michele Jackman, executive vice president of the temple board. “Thinking about the last night in the old sanctuary just gives me a lump in my throat.”

While services in the new building can accommodate up to 750 congregants, planners still wanted to retain the small-time feeling of their warm community.

“We wanted our new sanctuary to be as intimate as possible,” Greenbaum said. “That’s why we have our seating arranged in a semicircle. People were concerned with our expansion and asked, ‘Would we still be personal?’ It was a high priority not to lose that quality.”

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Member Gloria Meyerson said that even though membership grows daily, she isn’t worried about losing touch. The close-knit temple community will continue to hold a special Friday night program about twice a year called Shalom Bayit, or “peace of the home” in Hebrew. Instead of going to temple that night, families can get together to share Shabbat songs as well as a meal in their homes as a way to get to know each other better, she said.

One of the congregation’s earliest members, Audrey Benesch--who first thought of bringing a Reform temple to Thousand Oaks in 1967--said it is wonderful that the synagogue has been able to evolve.

She remembered back to a time in the early 1970s when nearly 50 families would hold services at a sleep-away camp called Hidden Trails in Agoura.

“We’d sit outside waiting for enough people to start our service,” Benesch said.

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For years, the swell of members that normally attend temple on Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur would meet in roomier quarters at Ascension Evangelical Lutheran Church in Thousand Oaks.

“But there was one big cross always overhead,” Meyerson said. “It used to drive me crazy.”

Because they once lacked their own space, expansion has always been a high priority for temple members, who want to make their community attractive to those Jews who previously have not been involved.

“Our goal has been to attract the unaffiliated,” said David Blankstein, a temple member who headed up the fund-raising and construction committees. “We’ve gained new members just by people seeing the construction. People want to go where the action is. They want to have a wedding or a bar mitzvah in a nice place. They don’t want it in a shack.”

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Thrilled that they finally have a beautiful building in which to socialize and pray, temple members now laugh about the times when they weren’t so sure they’d make it to this point.

“Believe me, it hasn’t been easy,” said Zelda Finestone of Thousand Oaks.

The site had been graded, the pipes installed and the concrete had been poured several years ago when Finestone was temple president.

“And then we had to wait, I believe a year,” she said. “We had to wait for more money to come in to continue the work. It was very frustrating.”

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Another time, Finestone remembered getting a phone call that one of the crew’s tractors was left running on temple property. She raced over to try and turn off the engine but there was no key. She called the Fire Department but firefighters didn’t know how to stop it either, she said.

She barely slept that night.

“I was petrified it would plow into our existing building,” she said.

Finestone was at the temple at the crack of dawn the next morning. Miraculously, she said, everything was intact.

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“This Rosh Hashana for me is the beginning of the ending of a dream.”


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