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Temple Beth Sholom of San Leandro Undergoing Building Rehab and Preparing for Hanukkah

In San Leandro since 1886 and in its current building since the 1950's, this Jewish congregation with 120 member households has launched a facility make-over that is long overdue.

Located on a stretch of Dolores Avenue not far from San Leandro's downtown, is poised to repair and upgrade the building it has occupied since the early 1950's and start a new chapter in its 125 year history serving Jews from throughout the Bay Area.

It bills itself as a Conservative Synagogue with a Reform Rabbi and a Renewal Cantor and attracts members from not only San Leandro, but Hayward, Castro Valley, Alameda, Oakland and even Danville.

"We have something for almost everybody," said the Temple's President, Rita Cohen.

She said she believes the synagogue is poised to grow and that the long overdue structural and cosmetic improvements being made to its interior and exterior will play a role in that.

At one time the synagogue had 400 member households. With fewer Jews  affiliating with congregations nationwide and a gradual exodous of its members moving to Contra Costa County, the San Leandro synagogue, like many other Jewish congregations, has seen its numbers dwindle in past decades.

The decline may be ending, however, according to Cohen who noted the synagogue's religious school is well-respected and growing.

Besides its weekly religious school programs, it also operates a Jewish pre-school on-site which has 60 children enrolled. The pre-school is not limited to members and attracts families from all demographics. Once a month the Temple holds a Friday night Shabbat dinner and service geared to families with children.

The congregation, she says, is trying to serve its many older, but still vibrant, members and at the same time attract younger families. "We are looking for the right balance," said Cohen. In an effort to attract younger members not only does the synagogue have a Facebook group, it also has a Twitter account.

Family-friendly Hanukkah celebration is planned

Children will especially delight in the Hanukkah events planned by the congregation this year, according to Cohen.

Each night from December 20 through 27 at 6 p.m., the synagogue's Rabbi Harry A. Manhoff, Ph.D., will use his super-human strength and climb up on the Temple's roof to light the large outdoor menorah   (Manhoff is famed not only for his excellent Torah scholarship, but his massive collection of 17,000 super hero comic books. You can read all about it here.)

Onlookers will sing Hanukkah songs and recite the Hanukkah candle blessings which are said each night as the menorah is lit. You can learn about the Hanukkah story and why it is celebrated each year here.

Monday, December 26 from 4:30 to 9:00 p.m. the synagogue will hold its annual Hanukkah party featuring homemade potato latkes, a driedel tournament and a movie.

Synagogue offers programming for the broader local community

Temple Beth Sholom offers a wide array of adult education learning opportunities, of interest beyond just the Jewish community. For many years it has hosted popular weekday Lunch and Learn classes attended by people from throughout the Bay Area.

During the Jewish High Holy Days each year the congregation collects food for a local food bank and on Thanksgiving it pools money with other Bay Area Jewish temples to buy turkeys for those in need. The congregation's youngsters also have collected new clothing for homeless children.

Firmly rooted in San Leandro for the past 125 years

In 1886 a small group of Jews came across the San Francisco Bay to form the San Leandro Hebrew Congregation. It later became known as Temple Beth Sholom.

According to a local website, San Leandro Bytes, which archived information about historical buildings in town, in 1889, $1 was paid by the San Leandro Hebrew Congregation for land at 59 Chumalia Street. It was there that the congregation built a structure it called "The Little Shul". You can see photos of The Little Shul here and here.

The website reports this was the first synagogue in San Leandro and likely in the entire East Bay. It is thought to be the fourth house of worship built in San Leandro.

During the Second World War the Bay Area's population swelled and The Little Shul was no longer large enough for the congregation.

They sold the building to a church and moved to their present location on Dolores Avenue. Actual construction on the present-day Dolores Avenue synagogue began in 1949 and it was occupied shortly thereafter.

The congregation had barely gotten settled into its new building when it learned The Little Shul had become too small, as well, for the church that had purchased it. The San Leandro Jewish Community pulled together and repurchased The Little Shul from the church and moved it from Chumalia St. to Dolores Avenue. It was restored and remains today behind the larger synagogue. It is still used for some services and classes.

Connected to its neighbors during the rennovation process

Cohen said her congregation has tried to be diligent about keeping Dolores Avenue area neighbors informed about the current repair work going on inside and outside the synagogue. "We invited the neighbors in to look around and to tell us if they had any concerns about parking and other issues that might arise during the rehabilitation work," she said, "and we plan to keep the lines of communication open with them and be good neighbors while this work is progressing."

Cohen said people interested in Temple Beth Sholom can e-mail her at president@tbssanleandro.org.

After the repair work is completed, Cohen said the congregation plans to hold an Open House so the neighbors and entire community can see the improvements.

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