Beth Sholom unveils its work in progress

Congregation Beth Sholom will never be higher.

The San Francisco Conservative shul “topped off” on Sunday, July 15, placing the highest beam on its avant-garde shul-to-be, and celebrating with a block party on a battleship-gray Richmond District day.

“I love fog!” shouted Burton Meyer, a congregant at the synagogue for more than half a century.

One thing Meyer doesn’t love, however, is trekking all about town for various temple activities. Since Beth Sholom kicked off its reconstruction 10 months ago, Shabbat services have been held at Ner Tamid, Sunday school at B’nai Emunah, a minyan at the JCCSF and a smaller minyan (for those who won’t drive on the Sabbath) on-site at Beth Sholom’s education building.

By January, the synagogue hopes to be home again. At the party, while congregants and neighborhood kids drew colorful chalk pictures on the street and ate kosher hot dogs (while a pair of hard-working real dogs worked the crowd) Mark Gunther led blue-helmeted onlookers through the construction site.

Gesturing at a cement hole in the ground illuminated by dangling mechanic’s lights, Gunther, the chair of the synagogue’s building committee, touted the virtues of the library that will soon fill this space, drawing a knowing chuckle from the group when he notes it “won’t smell like old coffee.” (Beth Sholom congregants love their synagogue but always merely tolerated its olfactory quirks.)

The group murmured in approval when Gunther led it up to the future social room and open rooftop garden. Facing east, the garden will maximize whatever sun the Richmond has to offer (and, on cue, the clouds parted).

Finally, Gunther led the group into the future sanctuary. Stanley Saitowitz’s award-winning design will resemble a massive menorah when all is said and done. But the huge, smile-shaped open room now looks for all the world like a plus-sized skate ramp (indeed, a rumor is floating around the congregation that a pair of teens managed to climb in and take a few skateboard runs before being booted out).

Sandy Goldstein, a past synagogue president, wishes Beth Sholom had a social hall like the one under construction when he celebrated his son’s bar mitzvah. They actually had to use another synagogue’s social hall.

“We wanted to build the kind of place where people would want to have a party,” he said. “The community has to be able to have fun here. There’s no shame in a synagogue providing fun.”

It seemed to be a fun day for new Rabbi Micah Hyman, who drew chalk drawings on the ground with kids on the day he was meeting many of his congregants for the first time.

In a Hebrew-spattered speech before a couple of hundred merry onlookers, the energetic 36-year-old rabbi compared the half-pipe-shaped sanctuary looming over his head to a Kiddush cup. Just as the synagogue installed its highest beam, the Kiddush cup should be filled to the very top.

It all brought a smile to Irv Abramowitz’s face. The longtime congregant was bar mitzvahed at the old Beth Sholom, which was literally next door to his family’s flat in a building owned by his cousin.

While it was difficult to see his childhood home razed, Abramowitz is focused on tomorrow.

He glanced up where his former home stood, now a mass of concrete, rebar and beams. “I can’t wait,” he whispered.

Joe Eskenazi

Joe Eskenazi is the managing editor at Mission Local. He is a former editor-at-large at San Francisco magazine, former columnist at SF Weekly and a former J. staff writer.