Temple Emanu-El of West Essex in Livingston dedicated its newly renovated sanctuary during the weekend of Sept. 9-11.
On Friday night, 200 people representing a cross-section of the community came to kabalat Shabbat services to welcome the $750,000 renovation.
The transformation of the 56-year-old Reform synagogue includes a new bima with wider steps for easier use and a ramp installed for handicap accessibility. There is a new sound and light system, removable chairs in place of the pews, a new ark and eternal light, and a new podium with matching hallah and candle tables.
An extra space for an alcove and piano has been carved out of formerly unused office space.
Alex Ehrlich of Livingston, 15, was among the Friday night revelers. As a student helper, he was also among the 200 religious school students at the rededication on Sunday morning.
“I didn’t realize the temple could get this bright,” said Alex. He praised the sound system, which his father, Robert Ehrlich, was managing, and the doors of the new ark, whose stained glass matches the existing glass sculpture above the ark. “I like it because it shows how you can take the old and make it new, ” Alex added.
Elyssa Langberg, 10, of Livingston, saw the new sanctuary for the first time on Sept. 11. “I think it looks really cool,” she said. “Last year we were really squished in the pews. Now we have our own seats and we’re not squished. I think the designs are really pretty, and I like the new lighting.”
Although construction was completed on Aug. 26, Theresa Edelstein, congregation president and, with Dave Spiler, renovation committee cochair, felt it wasn’t finished until the dedication on Friday night.
“What completed the renovation were the people worshiping in the sanctuary,” she said.
The Hebrew wording formerly on the side of the ark, “Make us a light unto the nations,” was changed to “God is in this place” and moved above the ark.
“The original language didn’t resonate with the congregation. The new language is more in line with the community and spirit today,” said Rabbi Mark Kaiserman.
He particularly wanted to hold a second dedication for the students on Sunday. “This is just as much a kids’ sanctuary as it is an adults’ sanctuary,” he said. “And these kids will all have their bar and bat mitzvas there. They should have a chance to celebrate as well.”
Alex Ehrlich agreed. “It’s an amazing new beginning,” he said.