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Executively Speaking: Completing a Crucial Step Towards Physical Sanctuary

by Michael Saxe-Taller, Executive Director

Kehilla first declared itself a Sanctuary congregation in the 1980s. In November 2016, the Kehilla Board passed a resolution to reaffirm our commitment to being a Sanctuary congregation, and a year and half later, voted to approve the offering of physical sanctuary in our building to a refugee or immigrant in danger of deportation.

Kehilla’s Sanctuary Task Force and Immigration Committee have been working diligently ever since to prepare our congregation and our building to be able to offer temporary housing. From the beginning, our biggest impediment has been that there is not an adequate bathroom in our building, including a shower, for any potential guest.

I am delighted to say, that after a year-long saga, including many twists and turns, we now have not only a new bathroom and shower, but a really fine living situation available to a refugee or immigrant in need. Our Miriam’s Well Room, which was an office and storage room next to the piano and foosball table in the Social Hall is now a bedroom, and we have built a new bathroom behind it, in what was a storeroom, which had been unceremoniously called the ‘dungeon’. That bathroom can also be accessed through either our Buber or Heschel Rooms.

We would not have reached this point without the hard work, generosity and commitment of many people. Immigration Committee Chair Julie Litwin and Kehilla Board Co-Chair Catherine Lyons, have formed and led our Sanctuary Task Force and have steadily and tenaciously moved this project forward. They have been joined in their efforts by current task force members Penny Rosenwasser, Anna Martin, Carolyn Schour, Jonathan Blazer and Rachele Kanigel as well as previous members Richard Spieglman, Tova Vance, Julie Aronowitz, Lesley Sternin and Frances Kreimer.

Michael Butler, a contractor and Kehilla congregant, has tirelessly spearheaded the construction.  As we explored other plans, including a mop sink shower and adding a bathtub and shower to our downstairs woman’s room, Michael has been patient, flexible and creative as each plan fell apart. He has led us through the current building project. From my front-row seat, I have learned just how much skill it takes to manage relationships with the architect, the city, the many vendors (plumbers, electricians, construction firms, etc.) and the client (that is us).  Michael is good at what he does and has a big heart and a deep commitment to doing the right thing.

The Kehilla staff, most particularly office administrator Dee Ward and custodians Josef Straub, have gone beyond the call of duty on this project.  Dee interfaced with Michael Butler and many of our vendors, and Josef and Fred painted, cleaned and schlepped – and made it possible to complete this project.

I have learned that significant building projects cost money, and this one was no exception as the project cost $32,000 in the end.  Some funding came from our Building Improvements Fund and the Rabbis Discretionary Fund, but the majority of it was raised by the Immigration Team, with the support of Susan Freundlich, and came from numerous donors from both within and outside of the Kehilla community. Thank you to all who gave.

The architects at Amato Architecture, did our many drawings at discount. The tradespeople from Plumbing Ministry, Lap Electric, AG Drywall and Michael Butler’s firm, Berkeley Craftsman, did their work with skill and efficiency.

And I want to say a special thank you to our new friends from across the street, Jaime and Christian from simpleFloors, who donated the beautiful flooring in the new “Suite” and to JJ, who beautifully installed it. We liked their work so much, that we just had them put in new flooring in the Buber and Heschel Rooms and the foyer by the bus-stop entrance to the ground floor.

I am humbled and grateful for the passion, commitment and generosity of all of these people and many others. It is an honor to work in a community that cares this much and in this way. 


Thanks to simpleFloors (across from Kehilla), Amato Architecture and Berkeley Craftsman for the donations they made to our new bathroom)

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