Amid some blustery weather on Sunday, local leaders, families and members of Congregation Beth Israel and Chabad of Forsyth gathered to debut plans for a first-of-its-kind facility in Forsyth County.
On Sunday, an unveiling ceremony was held for plans for a new synagogue campus and Jewish Community Center of North Georgia, which Rabbi Levi Mentz referred to as “a great miracle that’s happening in north Georgia.”
“We have a biblical commandment, a mitzvah, to build for ourselves sanctuaries, synagogues, temples that wherever we live, wherever we find ourselves, that we can come together to enrich our families, enrich our communities, enrich our faith, enrich the values, the ethics, the principles, the traditions of our forefathers that has held us so for long,” Mentz said, “and it doesn’t come every day that we will have the opportunity to take part in this critical biblical commandment to build a synagogue.”
The new facility, which will replace the existing Congregation Beth Israel building at 795 Brannon Road and is expected to cost about $4.7 million, which will be raised by the congregation.
Kevin Mahar, an architect with Place Maker Design, said the new campus and community center would be around for generations.
“In working with the rabbi and the community, we [designed] the building such that there was real connection to nature,” Mahar said. “From the time you first walk in the building from the main grand entry hall, you have a view of the back of the site. You’ve got high windows, there’s light coming at you at all times.”
Mahar said the building would include a meeting space, a daily chapel, a library, a social hall and a two-story school.
To help jump-start funding the project, Mentz said $1.75 million was donated from a charitable trust to “energize” the process.
“This is real,” he said. “I hope you can feel it.”
The remainder of funding will come from two sources: a push to collect pledges that will be given over five years from January through March; and a drive from April until June where members will be selling 5,000 bricks that will line the front entry and bare the name of donors for $500.
“We knew that a critical component to this building campaign is it needs to be very much attainable. It needs to be realistic,” Mentz said. “If it’s realistic, if it’s attainable, then we as a community will get this done very quickly.”
Congregation Beth Israel came together in 2016 with members meeting in a local business and, in 2017, opened the current synagogue, the first in Forsyth County.
Mentz’s wife, Rebbetzin Chaish Mentz, spoke to the importance of building a Jewish community in Forsyth County and said the biggest benefit is for the youth in the community. The synagogue will provide local Jewish youth a place to make friends, learn about their heritage and religion and celebrate bar mitzvahs and bat mitzvahs.
“And they don't have to go far,” she said. “They can do it in their own city in their own neighborhood.”
Mentz said the organization had been “blessed with
incredible community leadership,” including founding-member state Rep. Todd
Jones, who represents south Forsyth and north Fulton counties. Jones said he
met the rabbi not long after being elected to office and asked “not what can
you do for the Jewish community, but what you plan to do for Forsyth County.”
“I think for all of us, the call that we must have comes down to legacy and what’s the legacy we want to leave,” Jones said. “I think the legacy that [Mentz is] having and the one that you are putting us in charge of is, I think, what we want here in Forsyth County for decades to come.”
Forsyth County Sheriff Ron Freeman spoke about how the congregation had welcomed him and how they had strengthened the community.
“From a Christian and old Southern Baptist who has been in this community for a long time, the way that the Jewish community has welcomed me, the interaction that we have had, the positivity that we have seen come out of that, there is no question that we are becoming a stronger Forsyth because of our Jewish community and because of those relationships that [the rabbi] and I have, that the entire synagogues has with the community and the sheriff’s office,” Freeman said.
“It is our absolute pleasure to see this come out of the ground. I know God is blessing this, and we will continue to pray that God continues to bless not only this endeavor, but our entire Jewish community here in Forsyth County.”