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The first construction event in the life of the congregation was building the synagogue at Arch and Vine Streets and its subsequent addition. Next was the decision to build a larger home that would accommodate a growing membership, as well as serve a larger portion of the East Bay Jewish community.

The story of the move to Oxford Street in 2005 reflects a great deal about the congregation’s history as well its optimistic outlook for the future. Just as the construction of the original building in 1951 was an act of faith, so too was the construction of the current synagogue designed to serve 700-plus families. 

In 1999 Congregation Beth El had the unusual opportunity to purchase land from the Chinese Alliance Church at 1301 Oxford Street, a few blocks from Arch and Vine. During the next five years the congregation devoted nearly all its energies to fund-raising, community outreach, public hearings, zoning issues, architectural planning and construction. The building process and delays paralleled the earlier experiences at Arch and Vine related to neighborhood concerns about parking, traffic and the impact on the surroundings. The delays in constructing the current facility led to significantly increased building costs.

Despite these challenges, on September 9, 2005 congregants proudly carried the precious Torah scrolls through the neighborhood to a beautiful and inspiring new home. The unique design of the building reflects sensitivity to the concerns of our new neighbors (e.g., parking and noise), while presenting a visually inviting entry, and attention to environmentally sound best practices. In the spirit of Tikkun Olam (repairing the world), the building reflects this idea through the creation of the first geothermal heating system in Berkeley, the restoration of the open portion of the creek, the planting of evergreens around the site perimeter for the privacy and noise concerns of our neighbors, and the achievement of the highest Green standards.
Every part of the synagogue was designed to generate a sense of community and togetherness. In the Arch and Vine site, community was a vital aspect of its existence despite cramped, dark, dead-end corridors and a lack of a significant relationship between the building and landscape. In the new building, each entry is a welcoming experience, where light and the outdoors interplay with social, spiritual and educational aspects of synagogue life. A primary goal of the building was to ensure Beth El’s continuing role as a vital and welcoming community for generations to come.

The new synagogue also serves as a constant reminder of the past.  The original mahogany paneling from the old Vine Street location was lovingly recycled to create the ark and bima furnishings. The copper doors that once welcomed congregants to the Vine street location are set on a wall near the entry to the synagogue. The original stained glass rosette from above the copper doors in the Vine Street synagogue has been incorporated into the interior of the synagogue. Its motto over the doorway of the Vine Street synagogue, “Tzedek, Tzedek, Tirdov” (Justice, Justice shall you pursue”), continues to be at the core of congregational values.

The congregation is also the caretaker of two Holocaust Torahs, from the Czech Trust. One from Tabor, in the former Czechoslovakia was requested by Rabbi Abrami and the other from the town of Kladno, in the former Czechoslovakia, was requested by Rabbi George and Emmie Vida. These scrolls are on perpetual loan from the Czech Memorial Scrolls Trust of London, England.

Sat, February 4 2023 13 Sh'vat 5783