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'Little Shul' Receives a Little Help

December 13, 2007 By:
Jared Shelly, JE Feature
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Rabbi Sandy Roth at the synagogue in New Hope Photo by Jared Shelly
Just 13 years after first holding prayer sessions in rented space or in congregants' homes, Kehilat HaNahar, The Little Shul by the River, is close to reaching a $250,000 fundraising goal to upgrade its facilities.

The New Hope synagogue is planning to use the money to put on a new roof, repave a worn driveway and blacktop the parking lot, which is currently made of crushed stone.

Synagogue treasurer Brian Kelner said any remaining money will be put toward future expansion of the current building.

Nestled amid the shops and restaurants that line the bustling Main Street area of New Hope, the synagogue building earlier served as a schoolhouse in 1800s, and was later converted into an art gallery and restaurant. Considering the many years of use, making repairs on the structure has become vital.

An anonymous donor has pledged to match up to $125,000 in donations to help the program. With a completion date of Dec. 31 set for the fundraising drive, Kelner said that the shul has so far received $105,000 in donations, but hopes to raise the final $20,000 by the end of the month.

"We're in the 11th hour right now," he said, noting that even if the shul falls short of its goal, the donor will still match the funds.

The parking lot at the Reconstructionist synagogue has been a particular problem on days of large events, like Bar or Bat Mitzvahs, forcing people into troublesome parking spots on a hill.

Kehilat HaNahar has between 140 and 145 member families, and houses a diverse community that is especially welcoming to intermarried families and New Hope's long-established gay community.

"I describe [the membership] as from Birkenstocks to Brooks Brothers," chimed in Kelner.

Kehilat organizers work hard at making sure dues are kept at a reasonable level. That money, he said, ends up being just enough to cover the staff, run the Hebrew school, and pay utility bills and other operating costs.

Kelner did say he was disappointed that all congregants have not donated at least something.

"There's some members who haven't given, and I understand not everybody is in a position to give $10,000, $5,000 or $1,000 ... but only 60 percent have stepped up," he lamented. "I scratch my head on that one."

After crossing off the roof, parking lot and driveway from the "To Do" list, Kelner said that there should be around $100,000 to go toward building expansion. While no formal plans have been set, he noted that synagogue officials have spoken with architects about adding a kitchen area and a social room for large celebrations. Currently, people are guided out of the sanctuary after the religious portion of an event, when the room is then quickly converted into a social area.

"It's sort of like a Broadway show," said Kelner. "The curtain goes down, and the set changes."

He was uncertain how much the full expansion would cost, but estimated that the entire job could be finished by 2009.

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