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Congregation Beth David needs $600,000 to avoid foreclosure

jjohnston@thetribunenews.com

An avalanche of donations meant to rescue the Congregation Beth David from foreclosure keeps coming, but not much time remains to save it from the auction block.

The San Luis Obispo synagogue is $600,000 short of the $2.3 million needed to pay off a loan to Mission Community Bank. It has only five more days to come up with the money.

If it does not, the property near Los Osos Valley Road and Foothill Boulevard will be auctioned off May 17 to the highest bidder.

Money is arriving daily as people hear of the temple’s plight. Checks are arriving by mail, donations are being made through the synagogue’s website, and cash is being delivered directly by donors to the front doors.

“We are not there yet, but we are moving in the right direction,” said Gregg Loberstein, co-president of the board of directors.

With about 200 families, Congregation Beth David is the largest of San Luis Obispo County’s three synagogues.

Synagogue leaders say the economic downturn and other factors made it impossible to pay the $18,000 monthly mortgage payment, which led it to default on a $3.3 million bank loan a year ago.

The bank is willing to forgive $1 million in principal and back interest, according to synagogue leaders. The congregation has until Tuesday to raise the $2.3 million.

Pledges totaling more than $1 million from member families have been collected as a nonregistered offering, which will be used to form a corporation to pay off the loan and extend it another 20 years. The rest has come from donations — some from as far away as the East Coast.

Several local churches have also stepped forward with pledges.

“There are congregations all over the country that are struggling — it has just taken awhile to reach San Luis Obispo,” said Pastor James Blades of First Presbyterian Church in San Luis Obispo. “One of the missions of our church is to reach beyond our walls and realize the larger faith community.”

Shell Beach residents Linda and Barney Reitner are among the dozens of donors.

“The building that we are fighting to save is something we are all really proud of,” said Barney Reitner, who gave an unregistered offering. “We felt that now it is time to invest in the future of Reform Judaism in San Luis Obispo.”

The couple, who have been active in the congregation for 17 years, said that having a strong Jewish presence in the area is important both to the congregation’s members and to the community at large.

Reitner said he was not concerned about the future financial sustainability of the temple despite its current situation.

“In all areas of our lives, we make mistakes, and hopefully we learn from them,” Reitner said. “The temple will learn from this experience, and we will not repeat the financial mistakes that have been made. The positives outweigh the risks.”

Dean and Wendy Wendt of Los Osos also gave an unregistered offering.

“It is a beautiful place where we can come and worship and really find resonance with the Jewish culture and family,” Dean Wendt said. “And having young children, it is important to us that they have a place where they can grow up and identify with their Judaism.”

Wendt said his family considers the temple another home and that the value of the synagogue to their personal lives is what led them to contribute.

“The support we have seen so far is tremendous, even from people who are not Jewish,” Wendt said. “It speaks volumes about the nature of our community, and it makes me want to save this place even more because I see that other people value it as much as we do. It also makes me want to work harder to contribute and make a difference in our community.”

The synagogue will continue to take donations through Tuesday.

“I can’t stress enough that we have been a congregation for 51 years, and we will continue to be one no matter the outcome,” he said. “But the idea of driving by, looking at our building and thinking of the possibility of someone else worshipping in it is a tremendous weight.”

Reach AnnMarie Cornejo at 781-7939. Stay updated by following @a_cornejo on Twitter.

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You can track the synagogue’s fundraising progress on Facebook at www.facebook.com/CongregationBethDavid.

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