With the busiest season for synagogues approaching, Congregation Or VeShalom is putting the finishing touches on renovations for its Brookhaven building.
The expansion is immediately noticeable: A new entrance, featuring large wooden doors and a domed roof, highlights the project.
Inside sits the new lobby, a circular, naturally lighted room. The aesthetic is modern, with open spaces and fresh paintings from local artist Rosanne Kauss, ranging from just-commissioned pieces to work over 10 years old.
The differences with the old lobby are enough to make it hard to believe they’re parts of the same synagogue. Previously, dark carpeting and brass plaques greeted congregants. Now, white floors and artwork await.
“What’s most amazing is that you have this bright space when you first walk in,” new OVS Executive Director Adam Kofinas said, “instead of seeing this heavy wood board covered in plaques. It’s very welcoming. It facilitates all different kinds of events here. It’s an important reminder of what it looks like to be welcoming.”
He said the renovations are “all about continuing to innovate. We’ve aimed for the stars, and if we hit the atmosphere, we think we’ve done a pretty good job.”
Of the utmost importance to Kofinas in the project was finding out what congregants wanted out of the space. “You tell us what you want, and we’re going to make it happen.”
The new space features far more standing room and open, well-lighted passages into different parts of the synagogue. It also connects to the chapel that was built just a year ago.
One advantage for Or VeShalom in the renovations is its history of more than a century: The congregation has dealt with many of the same vendors and contractors for decades.
“We’ve really been lucky,” Kofinas said. “For many of our vendors, this is the third building they’ve worked on with us. It wouldn’t surprise me if some of these vendors — eight generations ago — worked on the original building.”
While the goal is to modernize the lobby, the history of the congregation is not going to be forgotten, with artifacts supplied by various congregants on prominent display.
“Most synagogues don’t have things that are 150 years old,” Kofinas said.
The whole congregation has thrown its weight behind the renovations, and Kofinas said reactions to the modern look have been overwhelmingly positive. “The one word I’ve heard more than any other: wow.”