Rabbi Mordechai Farkash of the Eastside Torah Center is thinking about the full synagogue experience.
“When people come in the shul, there will be couches in a section of the lobby, so if they are not comfortable yet with going to shul, they can just sit in the lobby and wait for services to end,” said Farkash of his new $4.5 million synagogue set to open in the fall.
Farkash wants the elaborate 20,000-square-foot Chabad-Lubavitch synagogue to serve all Jews, whether they are observant or not, young or old, single or with a family, natives or travelers, and anyone in between, even those nervous about attending an Orthodox synagogue.
The property for the new synagogue, located at 16199 Northup Way, was purchased in 2006, with city permits acquired by late 2011. Since then, the building has been under construction and Farkash hopes to open its doors shortly after the High Holidays.
“It’s a home for every Jew, especially for Eastsiders,” he said about the diverse group of people that make up the Eastside Torah Center. “Some come for services, others for Bar Mitzvah celebrations, others for yahrzeits (anniversaries of a death), others for classes.”
Chabad emphasizes outreach to non-observant Jews, and subsequently caters to people who know very little or nothing about Orthodox Judaism. Farkash wanted the design of the building to keep any of these Jews in mind.
“There will be a women’s section on the main floor with a mechitzah (barrier) for people who feel it’s important to be up close,” he said. “And a more traditional upstairs balcony for women who are more comfortable with that.”
The location, about a half mile from its current spot on one floor of a Bellevue office complex, took its members’ housing situations into consideration as well.
“In this area there are opportunities for people to find comfortable and affordable housing,” Farkash said. “There are houses nearby for a million dollars or more, there are houses for $300,000 or $400,000, there are smaller houses, apartments or condominiums.”
Having affordable housing nearby benefits families who are not Orthodox but may become so in the future, Farkash noted. The synagogue will not have a set seating capacity, but will remain flexible depending upon how many people come to a given service or event.
“At Simchat Torah last year we had such a packed crowd at the Torah Center that we had to dance outside in the parking lot,” he said.
The facility will include an outside playground and approximately 50 parking spaces. More parking will be available at the church next door.
In addition to offices and a beit midrash, a space for learning, the synagogue will house the Eastside Jewish Public Library and have classrooms and a large recreation room with couches and ping-pong tables for the Torah Center’s teenage CTeen Club so they can talk and “schmooze,” Farkash said.
The Eastside Torah Center currently serves approximately 500 families. Some are regulars, while others show up for major events such as the High Holidays.
However, whichever the attendance style, everyone is welcomed, Farkash said.
“It’s an open door policy, [which is] Chabad’s traditional policy,” he said. “This is not a typical synagogue. It’s not just for members. It’s for every Jew to come and take advantage.”
Since 2002, when the current space for the Eastside Torah Center was purchased, the center has grown to the point where a new building made sense.
“This wasn’t something that was a priority for me to build,” Farkash said. “Construction and fundraising isn’t my cup of tea. I’m more of a people person in terms of teaching and counseling and creating opportunities for people to come and celebrate Judaism and life. But our place was just becoming too small.”
More than two thirds of the money to build the synagogue has been raised. Farkash hopes the sell the current facility for an additional $500,000.
Farkash and his wife, Rochie Farkash, are well-suited to the growth of the Chabad movement. When the couple started out 18 years ago, very few people were involved. Now their efforts have extended to more than a thousand participants.
Rochie Farkash’s parents, Rabbi Sholom Ber and Chanie Levitin opened Chabad’s first center in the Pacific Northwest in 1972; now, Rabbi Levitin is the director of Chabad for the Pacific Northwest. Mordechai Farkash was born and raised in Jerusalem. His brother, Rabbi Shalom “Berry” Farkash, runs the nearby Chabad of the Central Cascades.