The District's Jewish Community Center, a stately four-story building at 16th and Q streets NW, is now officially back in the hands of the Jewish community.

Yesterday, center President Stephen Altman stood on the steps of the building, beneath a sandstone frieze that reads "Jewish Community Center," and led a balloon-and-champagne celebration marking Wednesday's formal closing of a transaction in which the group paid the city $2.3 million for the property.

"We've been on the verge of closing {the deal} for a year, but until it happened, it wasn't our building," said Vice President Lynn Sachs. "Now we have the keys."

Sachs said yesterday's event was organized on the spur of the moment, to celebrate both the purchase and the beginning of Yom Kippur at sundown tonight.

The building dates back to 1925, and was dedicated in a ceremony led by President Coolidge. When the Jewish group moved to Rockville in 1967 to accommodate the exodus of its members to the suburbs, it sold the downtown building to the District for $1 million.

The city has used the building for a variety of purposes over the years, including as classrooms for the University of the District of Columbia, but it has been unused since 1984.

An increase in the city's Jewish population in recent years renewed the Jewish community's interest in its old building.

"People need a focal point, a center to come to, a home away from home," Altman told the more than 50 people gathered for yesterday's celebration. "This is the site of that goal."

Altman, a lawyer with the Justice Department, said five pieces of legislation had to be approved by the D.C. Council before the real estate transaction could be concluded. He praised the assistance of council members Betty Ann Kane, David A. Clarke and John Wilson, who were at the celebration.

"I'm so glad this is over," Wilson told the crowd. The line drew knowing laugher.

Countered Altman, in a reference to the estimated $7 million in renovations needed for the building, "John Wilson said it's over . . . but it's just beginning."