by Lisa Pemberton
This article originally appeared in The Olympian and is reprinted with permission.
Members of Temple Beth Hatfiloh in Olympia have envisioned a new synagogue for about 15 years.
"At one time, the (new building) committee was called TBH 2000," said Beth Halpern of Olympia. "When we first started, it seemed realistic."
The dream soon will come to fruition as workers put the final touches on the 18,000-square-foot temple at Eighth Avenue and Washington Street, formerly the home of a Christian Science church.
The temple's $3.2 million capital project - mostly paid for with private donations from the congregation - broke ground in the fall of 2006. It includes:
Rabbi Seth Goldstein said the new synagogue was designed with plenty of kitchen and dining spac e for community events such as today's Blintzapalooza, the
temple's annual charity sale of books, blintzes and bagels.
"A lot of our events have to do around food," he said smiling.
Temple Beth Hatfiloh is Olympia's oldest and largest Jewish congregation; its roots trace back to the mid-1800s, according to congregation president Jeff Trinin.
The only other Jewish temple in South Sound, Congregation B'nai Torah, started as a more conservative offshoot of Temple Beth Hatfiloh. In 2005, it moved into a former evangelical church on Libby Road in north Olympia.
Temple Beth Hatfiloh is affiliated with the Reconstructionist Movement, a branch of contemporary Judaism open to new interpretation and creative forms of
religious expression. Its founding families built their first synagogue in 1938 at Jefferson Street and Eighth Avenue in downtown Olympia, next to the Olympia post office.
"It was a beautiful building," Goldstein said.
During the 1980s and 1990s, the temple's mem bership more than doubled - from 70 families, to more than 160. The 4,500-square-foot synagogue didn't have the capacity to handle the crowd.
"We were very overcrowded where we were," Halpern said.
One of the main issues was lack of classrooms for the temple's religious education program, said Bernie Friedman of Tumwater. Sunday classes were taught in shifts, and teaching areas were carved out of the social hall with 5-foot-high dividers.
The new synagogue features spacious classrooms and two separate libraries - one for children's books and another that includes adult study books and a small chapel.
Accessibility was an issue as well, which is why an elevator and ramps were installed in the building.
"We did, on occasion, have to carry people up the stairs," Trinin said.
And there wasn't enough room to accommodate larger events. For example, High Holiday services were held across town at Unity Church in west Olympia so everyone could attend.
Finding a home
The search for a synagogue has not been an easy one.
In 1996, Temple Beth Hatfiloh purchased land on Olympia's west side to build a new center. But once plans were finished, the congregation learned it would cost more than $10 million to build. Members began weighing other options.
"We looked at churches, we looked at business properties. Anything that seemed like it could work, we looked at it," Halpern said.
One afternoon in the spring of 2003, Halpern visited with Eva Goldberg, the synagogue's matriarch.
"She said, 'Beth, I want you to look at this church, the big white church on Eighth and Washington,'" Halpern recalls. "She said, 'I don't even know if it's for sale.'
"Halpern called her friend Linda Blustein at Interfaith Works and asked about the building.
"She said, 'I can't believe you're asking me. They just said they want to sell it,'" Halpern said.
"We have a term in Yiddish - it's basheret. That just means it was meant to be."
Making the move
The temple bought the building for $580,000, and leased it back to the church for about a year while it prepared for the move. The Christian Science church relocated to its Reading Room in downtown Olympia and began holding services at the nearby State Theater on Fourth Avenue. It's planning to eventually build a new facility on Olympia's west side.
The original synagogue was sold to independent record label K Records for $280,000.
In September 2004, the church officially became a synagogue following a celebration that included singing, dancing, a few blessings and seven circles around the building with the Torah scrolls.
"Right before the High Holidays, we had our dedication," Goldstein said.
Aesthetically, there wasn't much that needed to be done to convert the facility from a Christian church to a Jewish worship space, according to Goldstein.
Prior to the renovation, the only major change was painting over some quotes from the New Testament that had been stenciled on the church's walls, he said.
"One of the things that attracted us to the building was that it was very beautiful and very austere," Goldstein said. "And we felt that we could move right in.
There really wasn't much in the sanctuary that needed to be altered."
Even the church's antique stained glass windows, which don't contain Christian icons, were kept in the sanctuary.
"The windows are gorgeous," Goldstein said. "At the right time of day, when the sun hits them, the room just glows."
Planning for the future
Still, the congregation began planning the facelift and addition as soon as it moved in. The new synagogue was designed with input from the entire congregation, Goldstein said.
Members said they wanted plenty of natural light and performance space. They asked for a building that promoted recycling and reusing, and one with room for community events.
Goldstein said he can't help but think of the temple's founding families and how excited they would be about the new synagogue.
"They never imagined that the Jewish community would be this big - would be thriving," he said.
The building's final artwork should be installed i n the building in May, and plans are under way for a dedication June 22, which corresponds with the congregation's 70th anniversary, Goldstein said.
Many of the temple members, including Friedman, consider the new synagogue a gift for future families.
"It's phenomenal," he said.
"To me, it was a very big honor, a blessing, to be p art of this, to leave the future Judaism of Olympia a wonderful facility."
Lisa Pemberton writes for The Olympian. She can be reached at 360-704-6871 or email@example.com.
What: This annual charity blintz, book and bagel sale benefits flood storm victims, Interfaith Works and the Thurston County Food Bank's Backpack Project.
When: 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. today
Where: Temple Beth Hatfiloh, 201 Eighth Ave S.E., Olympia