Members of Congregation Ahavas Achim in Highland Park, which over the past year has been undergoing an expansion, prayed in their newly renovated sanctuary for the first time on Rosh Hashana.
“People were thrilled,” said Rabbi Steven Miodownik. “It was surreal, hard to believe we were really in there. The new seats were very comfortable and the acoustics incredibly improved. It was really very emotional for everyone and a wonderful way to begin the new year.”
The $1.5 million renovation, which will expand the synagogue by 7,000 square feet, is expected to be completed in four to six weeks, said building committee chair Elliot Frank.
Much of the sanctuary work has been completed, with new pews made at Kibbutz Lavi in Israel and a redesign of the bima to make it handicapped accessible. Some woodworking must be finished and work done on the mehitza separating the men’s and women’s sections, according to Frank.
The leading gift for the project was provided by congregants and Holocaust survivors Imre and Rachel Lefkovits of Highland Park as part of their vision of helping rebuild the Jewish life they watched destroyed in the Shoa.
The project, in the planning stages about 10 years, was partially undertaken to relieve overcrowding during services at the growing 275-family congregation. The sanctuary can now seat 450 people.
“We still have more people than seats,” acknowledged Miodownik, adding that the synagogue holds several concurrent services in other rooms to solve the problem.
Also completed in time for the new year were the expanded lobby, women’s bathroom, handicapped bathroom, room for breast-feeding mothers, and the kiddush room. Among the improvements still to be completed are four classrooms to accommodate youth groups and activities, the men’s bathroom, and landscaping.
A “unique” design feature, a permanent wooden trellis that can be opened out to form a sukka, is expected to be completed in time for Sukkot. A formal dedication of the facility is planned for Shabbat during Hanukka, said Frank.