Congregation seeking funds to build first permanent home

Just last year the board of the Mendocino Coast Jewish Community spent nearly 12 months debating the height of its cemetery fence.

But it took the same group just less than three hours to put a bid on a church they hope to call home. And now the Mendocino Coast Jewish Community has less than 45 days to raise $144,000 to secure it.

"No money, no go. We're not going to buy unless we can gather the dollars during the escrow period. We won't pay a mortgage" or go into debt, said Mendocino Coast Jewish Community Rabbi Margaret Holub.

So the unaffiliated congregation of about 200 is spearheading a campaign to raise the funds. Holub is optimistic. After all, she signed a contract with the congregation nearly seven years ago when the budget was only $5,000. It's now $50,000.

"They took the plunge then and raised the money. I think this is a similar kind of thing," she said. "It's all felt so beshert [meant to be]."

Holub recently received a call from a realtor in Fort Bragg alerting her of the former Baptist church for sale in Caspar, just four miles north of Mendocino. The asking price for the circa 1870 building was $140,000.

The congregation tendered one of two offers, then countered with $144,000. Total cost with inspections, title, searches and closing fees is about $165,000.

"We have no money. Our annual budget is $50,000 and we scrape that together. We're out here on our own and we're trying to raise this money in less than 45 days," said Mina Cohen, one of three teachers at the Mendocino Coast Jewish Community School and a member of the board.

Currently the congregation meets in a rented space located above the offices of a chiropractor and an acupuncturist.

Over 20 years the community has grown to nearly 200. It boasts a full-time rabbi, a weekly school, a Torah acquired from Westminster Synagogue in London, an active chevra kadisha (burial society), a Jewish film festival, a section of the local cemetery and an online service to connect its teens to other youths in Northern California.

But the one multipurpose room no longer meets all the congregation's needs. Religious-school students can't work on art projects for fear of damaging the carpet. Additional space must be rented for High Holy Day services. Older congregants have a difficult time climbing the stairs to attend services and other festivities.

The desired redwood church painted white, however, would provide the Mendocino Coast Jewish Community with a sanctuary, kitchen and a few small classrooms. In addition, the entire building is on ground level.

"Over the years it's been gnawing at us that our room isn't accessible. This was our top priority," Holub said. Even if the money to buy the church is not secured, accessibility will remain an important goal in the search for a rental property.

With or without a permanent home, however, the congregation will continue to grow.

"A building doesn't make us a community," Holub said. "We already are a community. But a building would be nice."