This weekend, the members of Congregation Beth David will gather to light menorah candles, recite blessings and share meals — just as they’ve done for the past 50 years.
In the course of a half-century, the San Luis Obispo congregation has grown from 30 charter members to 250 families. It’s gained a new home — a state-of-the-art green synagogue located at Los Osos Valley Road — and a new spiritual leader, Rabbi Scott Corngold.
“It’s a good feeling,” said Mike Blum, a congregation member for 25 years. “We’re appreciating our past heritage, and we’re excited about the possibilities for the future.”
Congregation Beth David’s anniversary coincides with Hanukkah, which started at sundown Friday. The eight-day festival commemorates the rededication of the Temple in Jerusalem in the second century BC.
“It’s the perfect holiday to celebrate our anniversary,” Corngold said, adding, “We rededicate our energies to the next wonderful 50 years.”
Start of a congregation
Congregation Beth David’s roots reach back to the 1850s, when Jewish immigrants from France and Germany first moved to the Central Coast.
A hundred years later, World War II brought thousands of Jewish servicemen to the region.
Congregation Beth David was founded on Nov. 23, 1959, and received its official charter less than a year later.
At first, services were conducted twice a month by visiting rabbis and lay leaders in meeting rooms rented from banks, churches and, often, the local Teamsters Hall.
Then, in 1962, the Reform Jewish congregation dedicated its first permanent home at 2932 Augusta St.
Ken and Judy Barclay, who moved to San Luis Obispo in 1979, remember a small building bustling with 80 families.
When the congregation hired its first full-time rabbi, Harry Manhoff, in 1981, “It was definitely a big step for us,” Judy Barclay said.
By the time Rabbi Norman Mendel arrived in 1998, Congregation Beth David was bursting at the seams.
Members used the same 180-seat sanctuary for religious services, receptions and teaching sessions, with larger gatherings overflowing into the parking lot. Sunday school classes occasionally took place at the neighboring Judson Terrace retirement community.
“It became clear that if we were to grow larger, we would explode,” recalled Mendel, who retired in July.
After a 25-year-search, Congregation Beth David purchased a 92-acre parcel at Los Osos Valley Road and Foothill Boulevard in December 2001.
A green design
According to Mendel, the congregation hired the San Luis Sustainability Group — led by principal architects Polly Cooper and Ken Haggard — with a specific goal in mind.
“We didn’t want to have an in-your-face type of building that would confront people,” he said. “At the same time, we needed a presence in San Luis Obispo County.”
Congregation Beth David moved into the new temple on Dec. 3, 2006. The 16,190-square-foot building features a 337-seat sanctuary, plus a social hall, classrooms, gift shop and library.
Other aspects of the bagel-shaped structure reflect the Jewish principle of “tikkun olam,” or, “repairing the world” — such as straw-bale walls, skylights and photovoltaic panels that provide 50 percent of electrical needs.
A computer-controlled heating and cooling system ensures comfort. And native plant landscaping cuts down on water use.About two-thirds of the property is permanently designated as open space, preserving views of the Morros.
Last year, Congregation Beth David received LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certification from the U.S. Green Building Council, making it the first such synagogue in the nation.
“It’s the best indication of a community that walks the walk,” Corngold said.
“I came from a community that was indifferent to ... the basics of beginning recycling,” said the rabbi, who spent five years in Lynbrook, N.Y., before moving to the Central Coast. “This is a whole different, wonderful green world.”
New outreach effort
Since the move, congregation members said they’ve had more room to expand cultural, educational and social outreach programs such as housing and feeding the homeless.
For instance, Congregation Beth David teams up with another San Luis Obispo synagogue, Temple Ner Shalom, to provide Christmas Day dinner to the needy.
In addition, the congregation works with Get On the Bus to reunite children with their incarcerated fathers, donates sweaters to Ethiopian immigrants in Israel, and provides a meeting place for local nonprofits.
Corngold used the Yiddish term “hamish” to describe “the unpretentious, kind, honest, generous warmth and sincerity that everybody in this community has.”
Cantorial soloist Ricki Weintraub, part of Congregation Beth David since 1997, agreed.
“This community has really become my extended family through good times and bad,” she said. “There’s nothing like it.” “Every decade we look around and we see familiar faces and we see new faces,” said Weintraub, who oversees about 80 students as religious school principal. “It gives us new energy.”