Beth Jacob Congregation of Irvine has purchased the property located at 3880 Michelson Drive. The adjacent property, 3900 Michelson Drive, has been the permanent home of the Modern Orthodox congregation since 1991. The synagogue now owns all three parcels and the parking lot at this location, which also includes an unimproved property between the two buildings, for a total of more than 6 acres of land.
“It’s an incredibly unique opportunity to acquire a building adjacent to the synagogue and expand services to our members and to all of Orange County,” said Marc Kirshbaum, president of the congregation. Both buildings on the current property had served as banks. Now congregants are looking toward a different type of enrichment.
Beth Jacob was the first of three synagogues to be located along a 1-mile stretch of Michelson Drive. (The others are Congregation Shir Ha-Ma’a lot and University Synagogue.)
Escrow on the property closed on Friday, September 17 (Erev Yom Kippur), allowing the congregation to use the newly-acquired building for services for its Sephardi congregants for this year’s High Holy Days. Sephardi Jews come from Middle Eastern and North African origins and use a liturgy that is different from Jews of Eastern European backgrounds. At Beth Jacob these congregants have a separate worship service.
Plans are already underway for the new building. These include establishing the first Jewish Montessori preschool in Orange County with the first students expected in the fall of 2011. Three Beth Jacob women – Symone Sass, Sonia Neutel, and Isabelle Harris – have completed training to teach at the preschool. The synagogue’s Sephardi members will have a dedicated sanctuary in the new building rather than sharing space in the current building. The Talmud Torah (afternoon Hebrew School) will have permanent classrooms for the first time. Administrative offices will be moved to the second floor of the new building, which will allow for expansion of the existing sanctuary. A semi-permanent tent structure has been proposed for the undeveloped parcel that would serve as a social hall for those seeking a kosher venue.
A capital campaign raised in excess of $2.6 million in private donations, loans, and pledges towards the purchase and improvement of 3880 Michelson Drive. Many congregants stepped forward to contribute, and significant support was received from individuals and families from outside the synagogue who indicated that they understand the importance of having a vibrant Orthodox synagogue in the Orange County community.
“It has truly been a privilege to spearhead the fundraising effort for the expansion of the Beth Jacob Congregation of Irvine campus. The community has been tremendously energized by the purchase of the new building, and I look forward to the growth of the congregation as a result,” said Kirshbaum, who served as the head of the fundraising committee. He said that the congregation expects to start construction on the property within the next couple of months.
“What’s astounding is the fact that we were able to raise this much cash in under two months,” Kirshbaum added. “Gifts ranged from $18 per month for the next 5 years to a $1 million matching gift from someone outside our community. There have been many gifts from $20,000 to $100,000, and we haven’t even reached out to everyone yet.”
The purchase of the new building caps a year of milestones for the community. In the spring of this year, through the efforts of Beth Jacob and Chabad of Irvine, the spa-like Irvine Community mikvah opened on the Beth Jacob campus. This past summer Rabbi Yisroel Ciner signed a three-year contract extension with an option to extend through 2018. Now, with the purchase of the building, BJI has set the course for continued growth in Jewish learning and observance in Orange County.
“My family and I are blessed to be a part of Beth Jacob during these exciting, transformative times,” said Rabbi Ciner. “The energy at Beth Jacob is incredible, and I look forward to the growth of the community for years to come.”
According to its website, Beth Jacob Congregation of Irvine was founded in the summer of 1986 by a small group of Jews who wanted to establish a modern community based on traditional Jewish values. From storefronts to bowling alleys these Jews wandered in search of a permanent home to call their own. Beth Jacob has “an ever-growing, diverse membership” with a “blend of Jews with different backgrounds” – “Americans, Brits, Europeans, Israelis, Persians, South Americans, and South Africans.”
Beth Jacob Congregation of Irvine is the only synagogue in Orange County to offer daily shacharit, mincha and maariv services, including the choice of three services on Shabbat morning – early morning “hashkama” minyan, the main Ashkenazi minyan, and the Sephardi service. In fact, it is home to the only Sephardi minyan that meets seven days a week and conducts its own High Holy Day services. The synagogue offers many classes for children and adults at all levels of learning, including a Talmud Torah and B’nai Mitzvah classes. BJI is also very active in providing chesed (charity) to the community, as well as home hospitality for those visiting the community wishing to stay within the eruv for Shabbat.
“Now we don’t have to do all of this in one little building,” Kirshbaum concluded.
For more information on Beth Jacob Congregation of Irvine, call (949) 786-5230 or visit www.bethjacobirvine.org.