Rabbi Joshua Ben-Gideon

Rabbi Joshua Ben-Gideon shows the main entryway for worshippers at Beth Israel Center in Madison. The synagogue is planning a major renovation to its existing building and surrounding property.

A Near West Side synagogue will move all of its operations, including worship services, elsewhere for about six months while its current space is renovated.

The $5.5 million project at Beth Israel Center, 1406 Mound St., likely will disrupt functions starting in April, said Rabbi Joshua Ben-Gideon. The congregation could have opted to remain at the site during the project, but that would have prolonged the construction timeline, he said.

“Our board unanimously decided that the best option is what we’re calling ‘evacuate and accelerate,’” Ben-Gideon said. “Essentially, we’ll be turning the building over to the contractor (CG Schmidt), with the hope that they’ll be largely done by the High Holidays in September. That’s a big incentive for us.”

The synagogue is hoping to find a place to worship within walking distance of its current site, and it is looking for office space in the Monroe Street area, Ben-Gideon said. Temple Beth El, another synagogue on the Near West Side, has agreed to temporarily house Beth Israel Center’s after-school, supplemental education program for children.

The construction project is more a reconfiguration of existing space than an expansion, Ben-Gideon said. The actual footprint of the building will change little, but the current square footage will be renovated to update the space and make it more functional. The synagogue has about 250 families.

Some of biggest changes will occur outside where traffic flow has been an issue. Two adjacent, synagogue-owned houses will be torn down, primarily to create an off-street area for parents to more safely drop off and pick up children. Also, parking and building access for people with disabilities will greatly improve. (The houses won’t be razed until the end of the UW-Madison school year, as the tenants are students.)

A large, unexpected donation is allowing the construction project to proceed. The Irwin A. and Robert D. Goodman Foundation, begun by brothers who were longtime members of Beth Israel Center, has pledged $5.05 million.

“We’re blown away,” Ben-Gideon said.

The donation is a significant increase from the Goodman Foundation’s initial commitment. Two years ago, it pledged $1.5 million, with the potential for another $500,000 under a matching-grant scenario.

The matching part worked like this: the synagogue needed to raise another $1 million on its own. Then, after that, the foundation pledged to give another dollar for every $3 raised, up to $500,000.

The synagogue was not able to raise another $1 million on its own, topping out at about $760,000, said Elissa Pollack, the synagogue’s executive director. At that point, the synagogue went back to the foundation with a scaled down version of the renovation plan, she said.

“The foundation’s board said, ‘We liked that other plan.’ What do you need from us to make that happen?” Pollack said.

Before committing to the increased amount, the foundation needed assurance that the renovation had member support, Pollack said.

“They didn’t want it to seem like the Goodman Foundation was building this,” she said. “We were able to show them that 75 percent of our members had contributed financially to the project.”

The total amount of money pledged to the project by members and the foundation now stands at about $7 million, Pollack said. That includes money raised years ago and already spent to do initial design work and purchase the second of the two houses that will be razed, she said. (The $5.5 million figure refers to the scope of the work this year.)

The Goodman brothers operated Goodman’s Jewelers in Downtown Madison from 1937 until their retirement in 1998. Irwin Goodman died in 2009, his brother the following year.

The Goodmans, when they were still alive, were among early individual donors to the project, so the total gift from the brothers and their foundation stands at about $5.3 million, Ben-Gideon said.

You can reach reporter Doug Erickson at derickson@madison.com or 608-252-6149.

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