Rejuvenated Kol Shofar has everyone happily back under one domed roof

At High Holy Days services next month, members of Congregation Kol Shofar in Tiburon will do something they’ve never done — worship at the same time.

“In the past, we had progressive services,” said Howard Zack, who helped spearhead the Conservative synagogue’s renovation. “You either went to the early Rosh Hashanah service or the late. The same was true for Yom Kippur.” In addition to splitting up worshipers, “it made for a long day for our clergy.”

Ron Brown

Now the only decision congregants will have to make is which of two simultaneous services to attend: the contemporary offering in the 550-seat sanctuary; or the traditional service in the adjacent multipurpose room that seats 250.

Once a junior high school auditorium in the 1960s, and adapted by the synagogue in the ’80s, the newly remodeled sanctuary and its 120-foot-high redwood dome are the “crown jewels” of Kol Shofar, Zack said, noting that the dome had been concealed prior to construction. 

The raised floor features pews that encircle a central bimah. Sunshine warms the space through skylights and brightens the ner tamid (eternal light) made from a cascade of reflective metal shards that feature the Hebrew letters of the Sh’ma.

“The sanctuary creates a feeling of awe and intimacy at the same time,” Kol Shofar’s Rabbi Chai Levy said. “It’s a stunning, grand space where people are praying and facing each other. That says something powerful about the importance of human connection that people are yearning for in their spiritual lives today.”

Other highlights include an ark flanked by multicolored fabrics, state-of-the-art yahrzeit wall and sound system, and modern, slatted interior and exterior walls. In addition to natural light, bamboo floors leading to the sanctuary add another green element to the renovation.

The sanctuary’s 120-foot-high redwood dome was exposed and restored during construction. photo/amanda pazornik

“The room itself is simply magnificent,” former Kol Shofar Rabbi Lavey Darby said. “Our community and architect designed a beautifully spiritual space that will hold the community in time of prayer, contemplation, singing, Torah study and joyous celebration.”

San Francisco–based Herman Coliver Architecture designed the new synagogue space.

Though the sanctuary and domed roof are centerpieces of the remodel, other aspects of the synagogue also have undergone a major transformation. Kol Shofar programming director Hagar Ben-Eliezer likened the overall synagogue look to a cruise ship because of the circular shapes and window placement.

Zack, co-chair of the new building and capital campaign committees, noted the decision at the project’s inception not to tear anything down. The total cost of the remodel was around $17.5 million, according to Zack, with nearly everyone in the 520-family congregation giving to the cause. Another $3.5 million still needs to be raised. 

“The fact that people are willing to put their resources, time, talents and skills into creating this place shows that people are excited about the future of Jewish life in Marin,” Levy said.

And while it still bears slight sounds, sights and smells of a construction site, the synagogue will welcome students Aug. 29 for the first day of Sunday school, to be held simultaneously with a grand reopening celebration.

The classrooms are freshly painted with new carpet and state-of-the-art technology, and the Southern Marin Jewish Community Preschool will return to the site, with a new playground and learning center.

There’s also a circular driveway for pick-up and drop-off, two kosher kitchens, projection screens and doors leading to a terrace from the multipurpose room.

Interior of remodeled Congregation Kol Shofar. photo/amanda pazornik

“We’ve been able to execute all the major components of the project that we put down on paper,” Zack said. “It doesn’t mean we can’t improve, but we delivered on everything we set out to build.”

Construction, which started in April 2009, came after years of dispute with the Tiburon Neighborhood Coalition, which fought the project tooth and nail. The group was concerned about additional traffic and capacity usage in the neighborhood.

Ultimately, the rulings of the Tiburon Town Council — and the wishes of Kol Shofar congregants — prevailed.

During the construction, members had to drive all over the area to take care of business. The synagogue temporarily relocated its offices, religious school and sanctuary to nearby locales as the work continued. Westminster Presbyterian Church in Tiburon served as Kol Shofar’s main hub.

Ron Brown, a leader of the synagogue’s capital campaign committee, told j. in May 2009 that sometimes people forgot where they were going, himself included.

Today, those concerns are far from his mind. “This is a legacy we’ll be able to pass on to future generations,” Brown said. “We’re ready to invite guests and have a party.”


Weekend events celebrate reopening