The official dedication for an extensive renovation project at Temple Sinai of Bergen County in Tenafly is set for Saturday, April 28, at 6:30 p.m. The evening will include a gala honoring Rabbi Jordan Millstein for his decade of service to the congregation and his 25 years in the rabbinate. It will feature a strolling dinner, champagne, music, and dessert.
The Reform synagogue’s new Kaplen sanctuary and Taub Family social hall, and the next phase of work for the building, represent the latest trends in worship, learning, and socializing. The new building will feature Jewish art expressly created for Temple Sinai.
“This is a transformative moment in our history,” Rabbi Millstein said. “We are a dynamic and vibrant congregation, but the spaces within our facility, as they were originally built, did not reflect who we are today.”
Initial discussions about the project began three years ago, when two families — both families are longstanding members of the congregation, and both chose to remain anonymous — offered to fund the renovation of the building’s sanctuary and social hall.
“These incredibly generous gifts ignited our vision to renovate the entire building,” said Ilana Matteson, immediate past president and co-chair of the Capital Campaign committee. It was in the early months of Matteson’s presidency that the two lead donors — who also want to keep the sizes of their donations private — stepped forward. “We wanted to create a spiritually inspiring space, one where the members of our congregation would have a meaningful experience in any and every way they participate in synagogue life,” she said.
To explore the project’s potential, Rabbi Millstein; the synagogue’s executive director, Joseph Slade; Ms. Matteson, and another past president, visited a dozen recently renovated synagogues along the east coast and in the Midwest. A design committee and a steering committee were created, and more research followed. The group chose to partner with Levin/Brown Architects, a Maryland-based firm specializing in houses of worship. The firm’s principal, Mark Levin, a Reform Jew and past president of his synagogue, led the project.
Phase I of the renovations focused on the synagogue’s sanctuary and social hall. The sanctuary now is circular, so the congregants can see one another and feel connected. The hard-backed pews were replaced with comfortable chairs that could be easily reconfigured to accommodate gatherings from 50 to 200 people, while still maintaining a sense of intimacy. An expandable bimah rises only six inches above the ground and can be lowered to ground level. Drop-down television screens were installed and the acoustics throughout the space were vastly improved.
A ner tamid conceived by artist Claude Reidel hangs from the central skylight. Its central location in the sanctuary signals that God is at the center of the community.
Six new stained-glass windows, designed by third-generation Jewish artist David Ascalon, surround the bimah and the ark. Each window shows a biblical scene in which the word Hineini is spoken. Hineini — “Here I am” — is a guiding principle at Temple Sinai. The ark doors show the burning bush, representing the scene in the Torah when Moses said Hineini to God.
Another change at Temple Sinai is the addition of Rabbi Beth Kramer-Mazer, who will begin in July as a rabbi-educator and the director of lifelong learning.
For information, call (201) 568-3035 or go to TempleSinaiBC.org.