Members of Temple Judea of Bucks County are hoping that by next year at this time, they will have a brand new home.
The new 17,000-square-foot building is not the only major change the Reform congregation in Doylestown is anticipating during the next calendar year. Sometime in the spring, the synagogue plans to select a new rabbi to replace Gary Pokras, the popular, guitar-toting religious leader who left the congregation in June to head the Buffalo, N.Y., synagogue where he had once been an assistant rabbi. Rabbi Ilene Bogosian is serving as interim rabbi for the year.
On Dec. 20, more than 200 people attended the groundbreaking ceremony at the undeveloped parcel of land that's about two miles from the synagogue's current, 45-year-old structure.
Temple Judea's plans for a new building include more classroom space.
"The current building is highly inadequate," said Jerel Wohl, the synagogue's president. "You know on Sundays we are filled to the max. The religious school takes up all the space."
Temple Judea is erecting a new building in an era when many synagogues have struggled to financially maintain large buildings while their membership bases were dropping. Just a few months ago, another Bucks County Reform synagogue, Temple Sholom of Levittown, was forced to close its doors.
Temple Judea's 1967 building was only meant to accommodate 100 families, but the area's Jewish population, along with its overall population, steadily grew along with commercial and residential development.
For a number of years, Temple Judea has not held High Holiday services in the building, instead worshipping at a much larger Lutheran church.
Today, the congregation has about 270 member families. But unlike many synagogues that have steadily aging populations, Temple Judea actually trends on the young side. About 230 students attend the religious school and a few dozen more go to the nursery school and kindergarten.
"People come despite the building," said Steve Weintraub, a member and longtime principal of the religious school.
With the help of a $500,000 anonymous matching grant, the synagogue has raised about $3 million of the $5.6 million needed to complete the project.
The congregation has faced challenges and, like other congregations, has felt the effects of the struggling economy. At its height several years ago, the congregation boasted 300 member families.
The building project has taken much longer than expected. The congregation -- which is located about 13 miles in separate directions from two Reform synagogues -- first bought the property for the new building a decade ago.
The project was held up due to zoning disputes with the township and neighbors. As part of the resolution, the synagogue has agreed to plant more trees and create bike paths on the property.
"We are not aiming to build a super-sized synagogue," said Wohl. "We continue to be a modest synagogue that fits the current congregation."