A synagogue can be the cornerstone of one’s family and community. Therefore, when making decisions about construction, renovation and decor, which require significant fundraising and detailed organization, the mission of the synagogue and needs and desires of the congregants serve as building directives.
During the last year, Conservative Congregation Etz Chaim in Marietta and Orthodox Congregation Beth Jacob in Toco Hills dealt with these issues and recently completed critical work on their facilities during the COVID-19 health crisis.
Congregation Etz Chaim launched Renewal 2020 more than two years ago to raise $4 million. The project, which included renovating the sanctuary and social hall, was led by campaign chairs Cheryl and David Miller, and Bob Bachrach stepped up as construction manager. Both Cheryl Miller and Bachrach are past synagogue presidents, and Bachrach served as Etz Chaim’s executive director for nine years. Together, they brought insider understanding of both the members and the physical facility to the project, and Miller succinctly defined a guiding goal for the extensive building overhaul: “Our synagogue must be pretty and purposeful.”
Renewal 2020 involved general contractor Gay Construction and Collins Cooper Carusi Architects. Eight custom stained glass windows for the sanctuary, depicting the Jewish holidays and Shabbat, were fabricated in New Jersey by Ascalon Studios.
The extensive Etz Chaim construction included a total remodel of the Luci and Stan Sunshine Family Foundation Kitchen, with heating, air conditioning, new cabinetry, state-of-the-art stainless steel appliances and a walk-in cooler.
The large Hammer-Tritt Social Hall was modernized and made more functional with movie capability, LED lighting and insulation. It can be subdivided into three distinct programming or meeting areas or can accommodate major events with a central surface for a dance floor. “We adapted the catchphrase ‘Raise the Roof!’ as our social hall theme because we actually rebuilt and raised the central section of the social hall roof to achieve aesthetic cohesiveness with the other sections,” Cheryl Miller said.
The Lindy and Norman Radow Sanctuary received new carpeting, refinished surfaces, reupholstered pews, and a handicap-accessible lower bimah. A 1 ½-mile-long telecoil or t-coil hearing loop system was installed in the sanctuary, social hall and Phillip’s Library, enabling hearing-impaired members and guests to access it via their own hearing aids or a shul-owned device. Additionally, Bachrach added that the education wing and other areas received a “face lift.” Significantly, this year, the Jewish Federation of Greater Atlanta honored Etz Chaim’s renovations with a Power of a Program inclusivity award.
Three years ago, Congregation Beth Jacob underwent a comprehensive transformation of its entrance areas and main sanctuary; however, with heavy usage of the smaller daily shul, continuous membership requests led to a complete renovation. Five different minyanim (prayer groups) meet in this space every weekday, and it is full every Shabbat with one of the four parallel Shabbat services.
Beth Jacob Executive Director Rabbi Yitzchok Tendler describes the daily shul as “the busiest davening (praying) room in the Southeast.” Building trustee Yonasan Gavant, who managed the project, summarized the modernization results. “We expanded the room’s capacity, purchased adaptable seating, and enlarged the women’s section. The complete ambience of the room changed. It’s now successfully multi-use, comfortable and very bright.”
New carpeting was installed, and surfaces were refurbished. Can lights were swapped for LEDs, drab wood paneling was removed, and a bulky cabinet was retrofitted as a library for much-used volumes. The original pews were replaced by movable chairs and slender tables upon which congregants may comfortably rest their books.
Congregant expertise was vital. Members of the Downstairs Shul Renovation Committee assumed demanding roles, including contractor Abi Nadoff, electrician Elchanan Zuckman, and interior designer Devorah Feldman.
Beth Jacob reached its funding goal of $42,000 and the transformation moved steadily ahead.
Enhancements to the main sanctuary were also carried out. These included modification of the mechitzah divider to improve sound and visibility on the women’s side and upgrading the page number stand. A decorative menorah was hung on each side of the ark. Gavant wryly noted, “The closure of our shul during COVID-19 enabled us to create the necessary usage flexibility, yet, sadly, at present we’re not able to use the room.” Etz Chaim also was able to continue with construction during the pandemic.
Both Etz Chaim and Beth Jacob were blessed with lay leaders whose tenacity, expertise and commitment successfully shepherded these multi-faceted projects.
There’s always more to do, of course. Bachrach expects the final piece of Renewal 2020, the repaving of the synagogue parking lot, to be completed by the end of August, happy that “We’re in shouting distance of our goal.” Gavant at Beth Jacob laughed at the question of important project completions, saying, “I still have a long list!”
- congregation etz chaim
- Congregation Beth Jacob
- Renewal 2020
- Cheryl and David Miller
- Bob Bachrach
- Gay Construction
- Collins Cooper Carusi Architects
- Ascalon Studios
- Luci and Stan Sunshine Family Foundation Kitchen
- Hammer-Tritt Social Hall
- Lindy and Norman Radow Sanctuary
- jewish federation of greater atlanta
- Rabbi Yitzchok Tendler
- Yonasan Gavant
- Abi Nadoff
- Elchanan Zuckman
- Devorah Feldman