Its back to school for Temple Sinai: Oakland congregation moving to Merritt College during constru

The wrecking ball will pull up soon. Then Oakland’s oldest synagogue, Temple Sinai, is coming down.

In preparation for the long-planned $15 million reconstruction project, Temple Sinai has moved — lock, stock and Torah — to the campus of Oakland’s Merritt College, the congregation’s home for the next 18 months.

“We have outgrown our facilities,” said Temple Sinai Executive Director Paul Geduldig. “It was time to update them.”

Founded in 1875, Temple Sinai built its current Summit Street facility in 1914. The distinctive domed sanctuary is a familiar sight in downtown Oakland, and has been declared a historical landmark As such, the sanctuary and adjacent social hall won’t be touched, other than a facelift. Everything else — the chapel, office and classrooms — will be demolished.

In its place, a larger and more modern facility will nearly double Sinai’s current footprint. The project, designed by architects Mark Horton and Michael Harris, includes new offices, a larger chapel, a kitchen upgrade, outdoor sacred space, a new preschool with six classrooms and a 4,500-square-foot playground. There will also be 10 additional classrooms for Midrasha teens and adult education, an art room, library, teen lounge and expanded parking.

Ribbon cutting is expected to take place in the first quarter of 2010.

About $11 million of the price tag is already in the bank. Geduldig says more than 60 percent of the congregation’s 1,000 families have pitched in to the building fund, and he is working on 100 percent participation.

“We’ve had a fantastic response,” he added. “We think with the building going up we will generate more excitement, though we will have to borrow some funds.”

Over at Merritt College, Temple Sinai has put up what Geduldig calls “the village,” a complex of nine portable structures set up on a basketball court. These will house temporary temple offices, classrooms and more, with an adjacent playground, all enclosed with a perimeter fence. College personnel have “been wonderful to work with,” added Temple Sinai’s Rabbi Steven Chester.

Because the Temple Sinai sanctuary won’t be closed, Shabbat services will continue to be held there throughout most of construction. As for the High Holy Days, the congregation has held services at the nearby Paramount Theatre for the past few years, and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future.

Chester points out that Temple Sinai is one of the few large synagogues in America with an inner-city presence — a point of pride for him and many congregants. That’s why, as the congregation outgrew its present facility, there was never a question about moving.

“It was felt by many of us if we did not go forward we might move backward,” he said. “This is the vision of the congregation, and thank goodness they embraced the vision. Our building, however beautiful it may be, is really for a purpose: to further Jewish life and values in the community.”

Dan Pine

Dan Pine is a contributing editor at J. He was a longtime staff writer at J. and retired as news editor in 2020.