On June 22, after an 18-month revisioning process, the nearly 600 families of Beth El Synagogue Center in New Rochelle were greeted by a newly rededicated and renovated sanctuary and ushered into a more vibrant future, according to those who will lead the charge.
Among the most notable changes made during the renovation, a movable bimah will stand in the center of the room, rather than its traditional place in the front, which Rabbi David Schuck hopes will inspire a more communal and participatory service.
“The symbolism of this move is profound: we want prayer to emerge from within the congregation, and we want the Torah to be read from the center of the room,” the Rabbi said, “as it will engage more people and invite everyone to take ownership over co-creating a moving prayer and study experience.”
A switch from stable pews to movable seating, an additional skylight that allows more natural light and the changed layout of the space will allow congregants to immerse themselves more fully into the service without losing the architectural integrity of the space. Most aesthetic elements of the sanctuary, including the stained glass windows, ark, and eternal light that once hung in a synagogue in Syria, among other symbolic pieces, were preserved.
“Consistent with our core value of embracing both tradition and innovation, our newly-renovated sanctuary retains the beauty and beloved elements of the original while providing a more intimate setting for communal prayer,” said Mark Silver, incoming synagogue president. “The acoustics, lighting, and flexible seating all create a place where our community can come together as a community for meaningful spiritual experiences.”
The renovation was made possible by a $500,000 donation from the Lowentheil family, who were honored during the June 22 service. The sanctuary has been dedicated to Florence and Albert Loewentheil, Beatrice and Herman Brevada, and Leonora and Howard Loewentheil.
When the Loewentheil children expressed interest in making a donation in honor of their parents that would be meaningful and impactful to Beth El, the renovation of the sanctuary was a “natural,” said Mark Seidenfeld, who has served as president for the last two years.
“We’ve created a space that will be welcoming and meaningful to all our members and the larger Jewish community beyond Beth El,” said Seidenfeld, a member of the congregation for 22 years. “It positions us for prayer experiences that speak to people searching for more intimate services, and maintains the traditions we’ve always treasured. We feel this is a major innovation on our journey towards a vibrant future.”
Rabbi Schuck is optimistic the renovation will allow the synagogue to provide its congregants a more meaningful and engaging service, with the opportunity to invite intellectual stimulation as well as more song and spontaneity.
He hopes the new space and vision of the synagogue will inspire “everyone who enters it.”
“As we move forward, we will better engage existing congregants around prayer and attract new families who are seeking a prayer experience that is energetic, engaging, and spiritually rich,” the Rabbi said. “There is a lot of goodwill in this synagogue, and I have been inspired by the willingness of people to help Beth El move into its future with optimism and hope.”