Since the start of the economic crisis, we’ve heard one heartbreaking story after another: jobs lost, respected businesses forced to shut their doors, homes foreclosed, families faced with choosing between putting food on the table and paying the bills.
This is the first time in memory, however, that a large house of worship has faced foreclosure in San Luis Obispo County. As Tribune writer AnnMarie Cornejo reported Tuesday, Congregation Beth David must raise $1.3 million by May 17, or its 4-year-old synagogue on Los Osos Valley Road will be sold at auction.
Certainly, no entity or individual is immune from this fiscal mess. Yet it’s especially troubling that a congregation that has been so quick to help those in need — by serving as an overflow shelter for the homeless; hosting a Christmas Day dinner for the needy; providing meeting space for many nonprofit organizations, among many other good works — should now face such a loss.
Yes, it’s easy to second-guess leaders of the congregation for backing what proved to be a risky economic plan. They counted on selling adjoining parcels to pay down a $3.3 million loan, only to see real estate prices fall.
They also anticipated having as many as 500 dues-paying members; instead, there are 200.
And yes, the design for the building itself was indeed ambitious, both in size and design.
The congregation planned for the future not only by building a large, 16,190-square-foot facility, but also by designing a state-of-the-art, green building equipped with straw-bale walls, skylights and photovoltaic panels — making it the first green-certified synagogue in the nation.
As Gregg Loberstein, the co-president of the board of directors said: “We were definitely overzealous in the need to build and design.”
But viewed from a larger, national perspective, Congregation Beth David is by no means alone. As the Wall Street Journal reported in January, since 2008 almost 200 religious facilities have been foreclosed on by banks, up from just eight during the previous two years. Hundreds more churches and synagogues are in such severe financial trouble that they could face foreclosure or bankruptcy in the coming years.
California has led the way, with the highest number of “distressed sales” of religious buildings.
“In many cases, churches ran into trouble after borrowing to build bigger houses of worship needed to accommodate growing congregations in once-booming housing markets,” stated the Wall Street Journal.
In the case of Congregation Beth David, the situation isn’t totally bleak.
Mission Community Bank is to be commended for working with the congregation by offering to forgive $1 million in principal and to waive $200,000 in overdue interest payments.
Also, members of the congregation have stepped up by pledging $1 million toward the project.
That leaves the $1.3 million to raise by May 5. For that, the congregation is looking to the community for support.
“We got ourselves in this,” said Loberstein, “but we can’t get out alone.”
We know there are many worthy causes — now more than ever — but for those who are in a position to lend support, we would strongly urge you consider the urgency of this request.
Congregation Beth David has lent its support to the community again and again; this is a critical time to show our appreciation.