Congregation Beth El–Keser Israel

85 Harrison Street, New Haven, CT 06515-1724 | P: 203.389.2108 |

Our banner is based on BEKI’s stained glass, designed in 2008 by Cynthia Beth Rubin. For information on this and other of Cynthia’s work, go to: <a href="" target="_blank"></a>. Artisan Fabrication by JC Glass of Branford, CT

Message From Yaron Lew: Doing Nothing Is Not An Option

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From Yaron Lew, BEKI president at the inception of the sanctuary redesign

Why redesign BEKI’s sanctuary now?

I believe that BEKI stands on three pillars: our congregants, our rabbi, and our main space of worship, our sanctuary.

You feel the enthusiasm of our congregants as soon as you enter our doors. We have an amazing body of members who care and support one another, are active in Tikkun Olam, have a great spirit of voluntarism, and serve as lay leaders.

We also have an amazing new rabbi. He is vibrant, smart, thought-provoking, and the most menschlich person I have ever had the pleasure of working with.

But our main sanctuary, which is in dire need of repairs, has an outdated hierarchical design from the 1950s and ’60s. It doesn’t reflect our values of inclusiveness and environmental sustainability, or that we are a warm, inspiring, egalitarian, participatory congregation. My initial email to the congregation about the sanctuary redesign, in June 2021, generated more responses than any other email I have sent as BEKI president. There was also phenomenal participation in the online survey about this subject in November 2021. This tells me that our congregants really care about our main sanctuary. For all these reasons, I believe that now is the time to redesign our main sanctuary to better reflect who we are.

Two options: spend money or invest money.

We can either spend money to make repairs piecemeal and end up with the same sanctuary we have now. Or we can invest money in a holistic approach and make the space suitable for our current and future needs. The second approach will cost incrementally more, but we can address things in a way that will shape our congregation for generations to come.

What needs to be repaired right now?

Our drafty single-pane windows are not energy-efficient.
Our noisy HVAC system doesn’t even bring in fresh air. It needs an upgrade.
Some of our seats have the stuffing coming out of them.
The back divider is falling apart and is held together by a hope and a prayer.

All of these things require immediate attention.
Doing nothing is not an option.

What are we going to do?

I have asked the Sanctuary Redesign Committee to address the following necessary improvements and upgrades:

Make the seating arrangement better suited for our style of lay leadership.
Provide more accessible seats, including increasing the row spacing.
Reconfigure the bimah so that a wheelchair user can both access the bimah and open the ark.
Replace the windows with energy-efficient ones and at the same time, see how we can bring in more natural light.
Explore options for replacing the divider in the back with a more practical solution.
Incorporate the HVAC upgrades into the design, bringing in fresh air and providing noise attenuation so we can all breathe better and hear the rabbi talk even in a low voice.

In addition to these essential improvements, I have asked the Sanctuary Redesign Committee to explore beautifying the space, for example, by covering the cinder blocks.

How will we pay for it?

Cost-effectiveness is a primary goal of the redesign plan, but there is no question that it will come with a significant price tag. We hope to raise a substantial amount of money through grants and government programs that benefit non-profit organizations. We also hope that every BEKI member will contribute to this once-in-a-generation project. Read here about our planned approaches to fundraising.

Join me, donate now!

As I wrote to the congregation in December, I have made an initial donation of $10,000 to the sanctuary redesign campaign. I hope everyone will follow my lead and donate generously. You will hear more about financing and fundraising in the coming months. We will ask everyone to participate in the sanctuary redesign campaign.