PIEDMONT -- The sanctuary at Kehilla Community Synagogue on Grand Avenue will soon get a fresh coat of paint, some beautiful new artwork and an eternal light placed behind its torah, thanks to the generosity of its congregants.

"More than 100 people contributed to Terumah this year; we were able to raise more than $120,000," said Joel Kreisberg, co-chair of the fundraising committee. "With the downturn in the economy, pledges had dropped, so this year we decided we needed a robust capital campaign in order to keep paying the mortgage."

Terumah is a Hebrew word for "giving." Kreisberg said it has a dual meaning for Kehilla, which purchased the former church building eight years ago for its community of about 340 families.

The building also houses the Kehilla school and hosts bar and bat mitzvah classes, book discussion, yoga, dance, meditation, a film series and mah jongg.

"The building is a gift to us, and we are giving back to the building by donating money to sustain and improve it," Kreisberg said. "Our target this year was to raise enough money to pay the mortgage and also have a cushion. The success of this capital campaign has enabled us to budget $20,000 to beautify the sanctuary and the front of the building."

Kreisberg explained that the eight days of Terumah coincide with the eight days of Hanukkah. On each day during the funding campaign, the synagogue profiled one member of the congregation who had donated money, whether a little or a lot.

"We showed how diverse our community is and how diverse giving can be; it was very successful in helping raise the money," Kreisberg said.

Rabbi David Cooper said there is recognition among the congregation that Kehilla Synagogue is here to stay in the building.

"People today want to make sure that the synagogue is beautiful and receptive to the next generation that will be our members and leaders," Cooper said.

Leah Korican is an artist who has also been a member of Kehilla for 25 years.

"I feel a real connection to the synagogue and the community," said Korican, who is creating the new artwork for the sanctuary. "It's a very special experience as an artist to be able to create something in this context, where it will serve a spiritual purpose."

Korican said the sanctuary will be repainted in green and other earth tones to reflect the connection to the earth and nature.

"The sense of being a steward to the environment is an important value in the Kehilla community," she said.

Her new paintings, which feature an olive tree motif depicted in iridescent shades, will be hung on either side of the eternal light on the sanctuary altar.

"The image of the olive tree connects us with ancient tradition and to countries in the Middle East," Korican said. "That part of the world is important to lots of people, not just Jews.

"The tree gives a lot to people -- olives, oil, shade and, of course, it's also a symbol of peace."

Korican said she aims for an abstract quality in the paintings she's creating for the sanctuary.

"It's an important value at Kehilla that people have their own personal experience," Korican said. "It's a very diverse congregation."

Kehilla Community Synagogue was begun in 1984 in Berkeley. Rabbi Cooper said the synagogue is part of a 35-year-old movement within Judaism called Jewish Renewal.

"Jewish Renewal seeks alternatives in ways to reinvigorate Jewish practices with deep spirituality and social commitment," he said. "For example, Jewish Renewal was one of the first groups within the spectrum of Jewish movements to eliminate gender differences regarding leadership; it was the first to fully welcome gay and lesbian congregants and leaders within the mixed community; we're also very involved in creating a welcoming environment within the synagogue for people who are not Jewish."

The rabbi said new liturgy and music are a major part of Jewish Renewal.

"The services at Jewish Renewal are marked by singing, prayer, dancing and a sense of celebration," he said.

Kreisberg said work on the synagogue should be complete in about three months.

"We think the beautification will not only attract people to worship here, but also make it an attractive place to worship," Kreisberg said.

FYI
Kehilla Community Synagogue is at 1300 Grand Ave., Piedmont, 510-547-2424; www.kehillasynagogue.org.