Five years after moving into its new facility on Overton Road, Knesseth Israel Congregation has been forced to put its property on the market.
The building was put on the market earlier this month, with a $5.5 million price tag. For over a year, the congregation had been working with the bank on the over $3 million that is still owed. There were hopes that perhaps another Jewish institution in town would buy the building and allow the congregation to use part of it, or that a business might use part of it.
In a letter to the congregation the leadership noted that the first preference is to raise the funds needed to allow the 100-family congregation to remain in the building, or to sell it in such a way that they could continue to use the building.
If they receive a fair offer, they would sell it to pay off the debt and relocate in the immediate area.
Part of the original plan was that proceeds from the previous location on Montevallo Road, prime space across from the Birmingham Country Club’s golf course, would help pay for the new building. But after Knesseth Israel moved into the new building in 2007, the real estate market collapsed, and the property sold earlier this year for much less than originally envisioned.
According to the congregational letter, “about $8 million” has been invested in the Overton Road facility.
Knesseth Israel was founded in 1892, Birmingham’s first Orthodox congregation. A splitoff group formed Beth-El in 1907, which was also Orthodox but allowed mixed seating. Beth-El became Conservative in the 1950s.
Knesseth Israel was the last of the community’s synagogues to leave the Northside, building on Montevallo Road in the 1950s.
The congregation began the process toward a new building a decade ago with the idea of knocking down its Montevallo Road building and rebuilding there. A monument in the middle of the field in front of the building had been intended as the cornerstone of a more permanent structure that had never been built.
Drainage issues on the property and a lack of affordable housing nearby caused them to look elsewhere, leading to the move to Overton Road.
Of course, for an Orthodox congregation, more than just the building has to move – those who walk on Shabbat also have to move close to the new site.
Recently, an eruv was constructed in a wide area around Knesseth Israel and the nearby Bais Ariel Chabad Center, and a kosher restaurant, Sababa, opened nearby — though this month the restaurant has been “temporarily closed.”
Through the discussions, Knesseth Israel Rabbi Eytan Yammer has reiterated that even if Knesseth Israel has to leave its building and be housed elsewhere, a congregation is about the people and forming relationships with God, not about a building.