I want to devote this column almost exclusively to soliciting your comments on our proposed renovation plans for the Sanctuary so that I may receive your feedback. [In my September 2015 Bulletin article on page 5] are two renderings of what we are considering. As I reported in the Bulletin this past February, we propose raising the Sanctuary floor to the level of the foyer, thereby eliminating all stairs from the foyer and making the Sanctuary accessible from several entrances. Doing this will enable us to create an accessible bimah. Specifically, the level where the shul˙han (the table from which the Torah is read) sits currently will then be at an elevation that is only three risers higher than the floor level of the Sanctuary, as opposed to the seven risers that we have now. This lesser grade difference will accommodate a gentle-sloping ramp over which those using a walker or wheelchair will be able to ascend the bimah.
The bimah itself will extend forward (westward) into the seating area such that the bimah will now be “T”-shaped, with the top of the “T” being the existing bimah at its existing elevation. In addition to enhancing the accessibility of the bimah, this will place the clergy in closer proximity to the congregation. The seating can then surround the Cantor and the Rabbi and create a more intimate experience for all involved. The overall goal is to better engage the congregation in the services held in the Sanctuary. This includes increasing congregational singing and participation in our services. We also acknowledge that our Sanctuary is a venue for community events and the gains made for the benefit of the Congregation during prayer services are gains that will benefit community users as well.
We plan to add a removable wall in line with the front edge of the balcony, giving us the flexibility to expand the area of the Banquet Hall for large smahot and dinners, and to have a new multi-media equipped space ideal for educational and meeting purposes. As a meeting space, it can provide a source of revenue to the Congregation. To allow for flexibility, the seating in this area will be removable. We will still have the ability to use the entire space from the western (back) wall of the Banquet Hall to the front of the Sanctuary as our main venue on the Yom Tovim and whenever our numbers require it. But it will also create an intimate space in the front of the Sanctuary during much of the year when the attendance does not require the seating as far back as under the balcony. Those of us who have considered what can be done to improve the Sanctuary have examined other synagogues and we recognize that having participants seated closer to and surrounding the bimah is one of the key components in facilitating participation.
In developing our plans we have been focused on meeting our needs while ever-mindful that everything has its cost. In round numbers, this aspect of our renovations should cost around $4.5 million. To keep within this budget, we need to establish goals and prioritize our unlimited wants. Our Sanctuary has remained unchanged for 60 years. Our community and our needs have changed since 1955 and we must address these needs or risk becoming unattractive and irrelevant to those whom we want to be part of the Beth Tzedec community. We look forward to a transformation that will better serve the needs of our current membership and future generations.
The elements of the proposed design can be summarized as follows:
1. Level grade for all seating.
2. Accessible “T”-shaped bimah.
3. Reconfigured seating in the front of the Sanctuary with seats on the side turned inward.
4. The creation of a flexible, separate room under the balcony to be used for (a) seminars and meetings, (b) expanded Banquet Hall, and (c) as part of the Sanctuary seating when numbers require it.
What do you think? Do you agree with our goals? Do you agree that our services and other uses of the Sanctuary will benefit from these changes? Please let me have your thoughts. You can email me or talk to me at Kiddush in shul.
I wish you all a healthy and happy New Year and look forward to greeting you in shul.