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Growing communities of faith

ASHLAND - Two temple construction projects here will help meet the needs of a growing Rogue Valley Jewish community, which one rabbi expects to double in population within the next 10 to 15 years.

Havurah Shir Haddash has nearly completed a 3,100-square-foot expansion of its temple. Temple Emek Shalom broke ground in March for a new, 14,000-square-foot building that should be finished by the end of the year.

Havurah has grown from 60 to 120 families since it purchased its current site four years ago. Temple Emek Shalom began with 20 households in 1972. It had 150 when it started to look for a new site in 1997. It now has 180 households.

"Both communities will probably grow pretty evenly over the next decade due to demographic shifts. Many more Jewish people are moving into our valley," said Havurah's Rabbi David Zaslow.

"My projection is that both groups will double in size over the next 10 to 15 years."

Four factors contribute to the increase in Jewish population, says Zaslow.

"A tolerant, accepting cultural environment is one of the factors driving the growth," says Zaslow. "Jews, probably like other minority groups such as blacks and gays, need a tolerant culture, and the Rogue Valley has it now. It may not have had it in 1925."

Baby boom generation retirements will also bring Jews who move from cities to more rural environments, says Zaslow. "University" designation for what was formerly Southern Oregon State College will help attract more Jewish professionals to the area.

"A large number of Jewish professionals coming into Rogue Valley Medical Center and Providence is (another) factor," said Zaslow.

For both temples, the projects bring much needed space.

"We've long since outgrown our building for bar and bat mitzvahs and high holidays," said Fran Orrok, who first chaired Emek Shalom's land acquisition group.

Emek Shalom's new, single-story building will have 14,000 square feet on a two-acre site at 1800 E. Main St. The current location has 7,500 square feet and little land.

Room for outdoor worship, a meditation garden and space for contemplation will be incorporated.

"The important thing is the connection to the outside and space where people feel welcome rather than crowded on our most important holidays," said Orrok.

A classroom wing, a gathering wing, a sanctuary and a social space will be included. No new education initiatives are planned at this time.

Additional space at Havurah will ease crowding, particularly during High Holy Days.

"We get several hundred people who come for our biggest holidays," said Zaslow. "Our old building just couldn't accommodate them any more."

A 1,600-square-foot sanctuary and a 1,500-square-foot classroom wing have been added to the 2,400-square-foot building at 185 N. Mountain St.

"Havurah does a lot of singing and a lot of dancing at every service," said Zaslow. "We haven't been able to dance for years."

Five larger classrooms will replace three smaller ones. That will allow a half-day preschool program to begin in the fall.

Expansion will cost $300,000, said Zaslow.

Two thirds of that amount has been raised, and the congregation has borrowed the rest. Contractors David Meltzer and John Schleining are building the additions.

The architect is Robert Saladoff. First services in the new building will be at the end of April. A grand opening is set for June.

Adroit Construction is building Emek Shalom's temple. Ken Ogden is the architect.

The entire project, including site purchase and preparation, will cost $2.8 million. A capital campaign continues, said Orrok. The congregation plans to sell its current site at 1081 E. Main St.

The Ashland temples are the only temple sites between Redding, Calif., and Eugene. Worshipers come from Northern California, Klamath Falls and Josephine County as well as the Rogue Valley.

Reach Ashland bureau reporter Tony Boom at 482-4651, or e-mail