Beth El breaks ground on new synagogue with a celebration

Congregation Beth El will break ground this weekend on a brand-new building it hopes will take people back to the Old World.

The synagogue will hold a groundbreaking ceremony Sunday, April 9, from 10 a.m. to noon to celebrate the groundbreaking for its new sanctuary. Live music and food will be part of the festivities marking the beginning of work on a two-story house of worship that will seat up to 500 people. The ceremony is open to everyone.

“Beth El has been part of the La Jolla community for 30 years, and we want to share our happiness with our neighbors,” said Gary Ravet, president of Congregation Beth El.

The $6 million building will have a modern look on the outside, while the interior will have an appearance reminiscent of 18th and 19th century synagogues.

“The actual arc where the Torahs will be kept will be an entire Torah room one can open up and enter into,” Ravet said. “That’s how it used to be done in the old synagogues. The seating will be wooden pews that are comfortable by today’s standards but look like the old pews in ancient synagogues.”

Ravet said the lighting, too, would combine modern technology with ancient asthetics. He said the sanctuary would not directly mirror synagogues from any specific region, and instead would focus on a certain time period.

“The design is not particular to any geographical area,” he said. “It combines elements from various different Old World synagogues.”

The exterior, however, will have a decidedly modern look, combining concrete with etched glass panels featuring Torah scripture.

“The exterior will look like 21th-century San Diego,” Ravet said.

Ravet called the groundbreaking ceremony a monumental time in the congregation’s history. When the congregation came to La Jolla from Clairemont 30 years ago, it planned to use the Jacobs Family Community Hall as a temporary worship space, then build a permanent sanctuary some time in the near future.

“The near future took 30 years,” Ravet said.

Ravet helped start an effort to raise funds to build a new sanctuary about seven years ago. The money for the project came entirely from within the congregation, with about 250 families contributing, Ravet said.

Ravet called the Jacobs Family Community Hall an adequate facility but said it is also used for functions for the congregation’s students, for plays and social events. He said something as important as worship and prayer deserved its own building.

The construction of the sanctuary is expected to take between 14 and 16 months. The congregation hopes to have the building ready for the Jewish High Holidays in fall 2007.

The new sanctuary is part of a renovation and expansion project that will overhaul much of Congregation Beth El’s campus on Gilman Drive. The congregation is also refurbishing its classrooms, expanding and remodeling the community hall and administrative offices.

The community center has been redone with improved lighting, acoustic panelling for the walls, expanded bathrooms, a new home for the congregation’s gift shop and a new bridal dressing room.

The administrative building has been expanded by about 300 square feet to make room for a new elevator and additional office space.

The congregation also plans to add a new parking lot to make it easier for congregants to access the facilities on the sloping campus. A new parking area will provide handicapped parking and a drop-off area with direct elevator access to the sanctuary.

The entire cost of the $12 million project has been raised from within the congregation, which consists of about 425 families.

Ravet said that Mayor Jerry Sanders would appear at the groundbreaking ceremony and that the event would be a fun experience for the whole family.

“It’s going to be a great day, not just about shovels and speechmaking,” he said. “It will be a carnival atmosphere with things to do for the kids, live music, lots of food and Israeli dancing.”