Boston College buying 24-acre Conservative synagogue


(JTA) – Congregation Mishkan Tefila, whose 24-acre property in suburban Boston is one of the largest synagogue sites in Massachusetts, is selling its land and building to Boston College.

The Conservative synagogue in Newton had fallen into dire straits in recent years as its membership dwindled to about 300 members, and the congregation merged its weekday service and religious school with other area synagogues. Rabbi Leonard Gordon told JTA in an interview last month that the congregation was actively seeking buyers and likely needed to move and reinvent itself if it is to survive.

READ: Why is a thriving Boston-area synagogue spending $15 million – to downsize?

Built during the 1950s on land granted by the state, Mishkan Tefila occupies a highly desirable property in a wealthy Boston suburb adjacent to the upscale Chestnut Hill mall. The arrangement with the state mandated that the site be used for religious or educational purposes for 100 years, according to the Boston Globe, which first reported the story.

To start, Boston College, a Jesuit school, plans to use the largely wooded site for parking and administrative offices, the newspaper said.

The sale price has not been made public, and synagogue leaders declined to share that information with JTA. While the sale is under contract, it still must be approved by a two-thirds vote of the congregation, which has not yet taken place. Under the contract’s terms, the sale will take place in May 2016 but the congregation will have until the end of May 2019 to occupy the building if it so desires, according to Paul Gershkowitz, Mishkan’s president.

“By no means do I want this to signify that Mishkan Tefila is over. We are going to become a very powerful institution in the community going forward,” Gershkowitz told JTA. “We just don’t need to have a temple the size of our existing building. Our membership has diminished, our building is older and making sure that we are budgeting properly for the building has become more of a challenge.”

With a sanctuary that seats 800 and can open up to hold 2,000, Mishkan has been the site for many communitywide events and rallies over the years. The location has its drawbacks, however. It’s not within walking distance to the bulk of Newton’s Jews, and its relatively remote location and lack of sidewalks made it primarily a driving shul. Furthermore, with Newton’s high real estate prices a deterrent for young families seeking to buy homes, Mishkan lacked an influx of new blood to refresh its aging membership.

“We need to do something to secure a long-term future because there are not that many young families in the Newton area right now,” Gordon told JTA in an interview last month. “It might be possible to rebuild on a smaller footprint which is closer to the Jewish neighborhood in Newton.”

Recommended from JTA