The first group of people invited to help Beit Am ceremonially break ground on its new synagogue included the Jewish community’s current president, Myra Blatt, and a handful of dignitaries, including Corvallis Mayor Biff Traber.
The second group included Beit Am’s founding members, like 90-year-old Jackie Gordon, the community’s first president.
And the third group was of young members of the community who had completed bar and bat mitzvahs.
Present, past, and future.
And the future of the Mid-Valley Jewish community was what the Sunday afternoon ceremony at the site of the future synagogue was all about. The community was celebrating the start of construction on a new 6,700 square foot structure, which is located behind The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints building on Harrison Boulevard, next to where the extension of Circle Boulevard is expected to eventually pass.
Ken Krane, who helped charter Beit Am in 1975 shortly after moving to Corvallis, said the building has been a long time in coming. Before he came to Corvallis, a group of five Jewish families began establishing community groups, such as a Sunday school program and a Hillel chapter at Oregon State University. At that time the community met in homes and on campus.
After Beit Am had been established in the 1970s, the organization increased its membership to about 30 families and bought its current location, a residential house on 36th Street in 1982.
Krane, who was on the committee that picked that location, said members of Beit Am initially thought they would operate out of the house for five or 10 years. With 140 families now in Beit Am, the location is too small for the community’s events, so Krane said they’ve had to rent or borrow space from other religious organizations.
Beit Am bought its five-acre parcel in 2000 and has since then been raising money for the project. The community currently has about 84 percent of the $2.65 million they’d like to have to build the synagogue.
Krane said in addition to needing more space, their current location is in a lot that is zoned residential, so they cannot put up a sign.
“It gives us much more of a presence,” he said of being able to have a prominent, signed building for the community.
Krane, who is also on the building committee for the new synagogue, said Beit Am also is looking forward to hosting community events.
“It’s been a really long process, and it’s great to see it come to fruition,” he said.
Scott Leibowitz, who is chairman of the building committee, said building the new synagogue is important at this time when racism, sexism and anti-Semitism are resurging.
“For me this is, besides the utilitarian issue of needing a new building, this is a statement that we are part of the community and the community wants us here,” he said. “It’s bigger than a building.”
Gordon, who spoke at the event, said it was beautiful to see the synagogue being built for the next generation in the community.
“It’s a historic moment, there’s no doubt,” she said.
Her husband, Lou Gordon, 89, said he was looking forward to the building being completed next year so the community could carry their Torah scrolls, in a procession on foot, from their old location to their new.
“Our job is to live long enough to see it built and carry our Torah scrolls in,” he said.