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Temple Beth Haverim Closes, Rabbi Starts ‘New Shul’

by Adam Wills

June 30, 2010 | 12:04 am

Temple Beth Haverim, an Agoura Hills Conservative congregation hurt by the economic downturn and a declining membership, was unable to extend the forbearance agreement with its property bondholders. The synagogue was scheduled to close on June 30.

“I had faith that we were going to resolve it in a positive way,” Rabbi Gershon Weissman said. “I thought we would be able to keep the baby going.”

As Weissman packed up the Torah scrolls and prayer books, he was also busy spearheading the creation of a new congregation in Agoura Hills, The New Shul of the Conejo, which has attracted about 120 Beth Haverim families. The new synagogue’s staff, so far, includes Weissman, Cantor Kenny Ellis, education director Samantha Davis and Hebrew teacher Raya Kaufman.

Rather than purchase another property, Weissman says The New Shul will hold services, activities and programs, including a Hebrew school, at multiple locations.

“We really want a full-time synagogue presence in Agoura Hills without the elephant of a building payment on our back,” he said.

Founded in 1984 as the Agoura Jewish Center, Temple Beth Haverim first moved to its Ladyface Mountain location in February 2003 after meeting in homes, an elementary school, a Presbyterian church and an industrial park. But construction costs, coupled with a decline in membership and property values, led the synagogue to file for bankruptcy protection in July 2008.

In February, Temple Aliyah in Woodland Hills offered management and programming services to Beth Haverim as a way to help shore up the Agoura Hills congregation. But those negotiations ended once bondholders rejected Beth Haverim’s request to remain on its property.

Temple Aliyah is now looking to establish a Conejo Valley presence through an afternoon religious school at nearby Heschel West Day School.

“If our satellite campus is a go and has sufficient enrollment, then we are going to have a once-a-month Friday night service in the Agoura Hills-Oak Park area,” said David Brook, Temple Aliyah’s executive director.

Satellite Shabbat services at the Canwood Street school would start in August, and Brook said Aliyah would adjust its schedule to avoid a conflict with Weissman’s synagogue.

Temple Beth Haverim President David Sherr said that his family, much like other Beth Haverim families, is taking advantage of a free one-year membership offer with Temple Aliyah as well as supporting the New Shul efforts.

Weissman laments that his new congregation will not feature a preschool, but he says he is looking forward to the 10 b’nai mitzvah and six weddings already scheduled for this year, as well as finding a location for The New Shul’s High Holy Days services.

“We have to crawl before we walk before we run,” Weissman said.

For more information about The New Shul of the Conejo, visit thenewshulconejo.org.

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