“MAZAL TOV TO ALL OF US!”

With that all-caps excitement, Rabbi Mark Hillel Kunis announced by email Monday, Sept. 12, that his traditional shul, Congregation Shaarei Shamayim, had closed that day on the purchase of a church to become the synagogue’s permanent home.

Shaarei Shamayim was planning to waste no time in moving slightly more than two miles from 1810 Briarcliff Road to 1600 Mount Mariah Road, which had been the site of a Baptist church since the 1880s.

Rabbi Mark Hillel Kunis

Rabbi Mark Hillel Kunis

Rabbi Kunis hoped to be moved into the new building before sunset Tuesday and to celebrate and sanctify the former church with “a short but very meaningful ceremony” at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday.

The event was to include the marching of the Torah scrolls under a chuppah (wedding canopy) and into the sanctuary, as well as the posting of mezuzot on the door frames.

Rabbi Kunis said the sanctuary is a slightly bigger than the shul’s previous home, and with well-maintained wooden pews requires little more than removing the crosses to be ready for his congregation.

It’s all too common for synagogues in inner cities to be converted to churches, he said, but the reverse is rare.

The original church at the site was Mount Moriah Baptist, but it outgrew the space about 25 years ago and moved to Tucker. Mount Calvary Baptist, like its predecessor a predominantly black congregation, also has grown too big after two decades of renting the building, and after Shaarei Shamayim had tried to buy the property for four or five years, Rabbi Kunis said, Mount Moriah was ready to sell to raise money for its own expansion.

The site is right behind property the congregation once owned but lost during the economic downtown and positions Shaarei Shamayim to serve Toco Hills Jews who live closer to Kittredge Park and Target than the line of synagogues along LaVista Road. Rabbi Kunis said a mechitza will be set up for the comfort of the Orthodox.

The location “feels right,” he said. “It feels right.”