Marc and Marci Dollinger are active community volunteers. Between the two of them they serve on half a dozen boards.
Given their passion for philanthropy and entertaining, they decided
it made perfect sense to build a 100-seat amphitheater in the side
yard of their East San Rafael home.
But first, a little history: the Dollingers moved into the house in
2007. “It was a bigger space than we needed,” Marci says. “But we
purchased it with the idea that it could be used for community gatherings.” True to that intent, after settling in they notified their preferred
nonprofits they were willing and able to host fundraisers, speaker
series and other civic-minded events. Their calendar filled quickly.
The inside of the home worked beautifully for all that, but out-
side felt less inviting. “It was mostly a weed-covered hillside,” Marci
recalls. “We had a small, flat area but we didn’t use it often, and it
required tons of watering to keep it green.”
And then, as their younger daughter approached bat-mitzvah age, the
idea of hosting this milestone in their own backyard began to take shape.
They reached out to design and build contractor Barry Cohen,
owner of Moliver Landscape in San Rafael, for ideas on how to
improve their yard. “He took one look at the hillside and said, ‘You
really ought to terrace the entire thing,’” Marc recounts. They also
decided to add a large fire pit and an outdoor kitchen.
Cohen’s plan was admittedly larger in scope than the couple’s original vision, but they warmed to the idea. “We also liked that the plan
had a real summer camp feel,” says Marc, who’s a board member for
URJ Camp Newman, now rebuilding in Vallejo after the Santa Rosa
site was leveled in the Tubbs Fire last fall.
For their hardscape the Dollingers chose imported Jerusalem
stone, a common material mined in and around the Old City and
used in structures since ancient times. “You’ll see it in use all around
Israel,” Marc says. “It was important to us that the space have a
Jewish feel.” And while the amphitheater was complete a year ahead
of their daughter’s big day, readying the yard for that large gathering
went down to the wire. “We have a creek that runs through the yard,
and we decided to build a bridge over it so that we had more than one
way for guests to enter and exit the house,” Marc adds.
The party succeeded seamlessly, and the Dollingers have since
hosted a steady stream of community events, from fundraisers to
educational workshops, musical performances and countless other
gatherings. At press time the amphitheater was the scheduled venue
for the wedding of two Rodef Sholom congregants, whose love story
began at a Dollinger-hosted temple event. “They met standing in
front of our dishwasher,” Marci says with a laugh. And while there’s
no Jewish proverb for such happenstance, Marc, a Jewish studies
professor at San Francisco State, puts it this way: “If a couple falls in
love in front of your dishwasher, they’re friends for life.”