On March 18, despite a steady downpour, members and friends of Congregation Shaarei Tefilah-Lubavitch danced in the streets carrying two Torah scrolls from the house where the congregation first held services to their new permanent home.
After more than a decade in temporary locations, the congregation had gathered in the rain to celebrate the “Chanukat HaBayit” of their brand-new shul in the View Ridge neighborhood of North Seattle.
The procession, from the home of Nechamah and Stuart Strauss, almost didn’t happen, because the rabbi was concerned about the Torah scrolls being damaged by the heavy rain. Catherine Greene, CSTL member, said, “We were worried that we’d have to cancel the Torah procession…I knew how important the procession was to everyone, so when I saw the weather that morning I decided to make plastic covers for them to keep them dry. We were very happy that the parade was able to go on, despite the downpour!”
Arriving at the new shul, Dr. Yussi Greenberg had the honor of affixing the mezuzah to the doorpost of the building before the assembled friends, neighbors and congregants. “I really wanted my children to experience this — it’s not often that a shul is dedicated, and it’s something we’ve worked really hard for,” said Greenberg, the congregation’s president, who personally led the building project from its inception to fruition.
The large and diverse crowd in attendance showed the importance of this event in the Jewish community and to the shul’s new neighbors. “We were thrilled that so many in the community came to celebrate with us,” said Debra Alderman Krauthamer, chair of the dedication weekend. “Our Sunday afternoon program was attended by around 400 people, including lots of non-Jewish neighbors, as well as Jews from all over the city.”
Also participating in the event were former governor John Spellman, Mayor Paul Schell, and Congressman Jim McDermott. Spellman was the honorary chair of the Capital Campaign Committee for the building of the new shul. The sanctuary and balcony were both full to capacity and the crowd spilled out the door for the duration of the two-hour ceremony. Children and adults all listened attentively to the words of Torah given by Rabbis Yechezkel Kornfeld, Sholom Ber Levitin and visiting scholar Moshe Feller. Many in the audience were moved to tears by congregation member Elisheva Loudon’s story on the importance of strong community during times of need and how Congregation Shaarei Tefilah provided heartfelt support to her family after her son had a serious injury last year.
The congregation’s spiritual leader, Rabbi Levitin, and his wife, Chanie, were presented with a gift from the congregation, as were Dr. Greenberg and his wife, Rachel. Dr. Greenberg gave a history of the congregation, outlining all the hard work the Levitins have done since being sent to Seattle 27 years ago by the Chabad Lubavitch organization.
A reception and community open house following the ceremony gave many the opportunity to tour the building for the first time.
The new building, designed by Robin Abrahams of Abrahams Architects, is at the same time both Old World and modern. The synagogue’s exterior features twin turrets, and the architecture is reminiscent of the shuls of pre-WWII Eastern Europe. Congregation member Chaim Sommers, a lighting designer by trade, selected and installed the antique replica chandeliers and sconce lighting fixtures, which give the sanctuary the feel of a traditional shtiebel (Yiddish for a European neighborhood synagogue). At the same time, the sanctuary’s soaring ceiling and huge vertical windows give the interior a modern and open ambience. There is seating for men on the main floor, and for women both on the main floor and in the gallery above.
According to Dr. Jennifer Bolnick, member of the design committee that worked with Abrahams, “our mechitzah [the divider used to separate the seating areas for men and women] was specially ordered from “Mechitza.com,” and has some high-tech features. It has panels of one-way glass that allow women to see the services.”
In addition to the Sunday public ceremonies and open house, the congregation’s dedication weekend included a Friday evening Oneg Shabbat at the home of Rabbi and Mrs. Levitin, and a festive kiddush lunch at the shul featuring guest speaker Rabbi Feller.
“As we began planning this event a few months ago,” remembers Alderman-Krauthamer, “we wanted it to be focused on Torah learning. Bringing Rabbi Feller here helped us to keep that focus. To us, the synagogue is very much a center of our community, and it is within this community that we try to reflect G-d’s presence by being there for others. As we dedicated the building, we were reminded by Rabbi Feller and our own Rabbi Levitin that we have to re-dedicate ourselves to living up to God’s high expectations of us.”