Sunday, Sept. 9, marked the end of one era and the beginning of another for Temple De Hirsch Sinai. Early on that perfect late summer day, about 500 synagogue members said goodbye to our former Eastside synagogue on 124th Ave. N.E. in Bellevue and walked our Sifrei Torah to their new home at 3850 156th Ave. S.E. in the Eastgate area of Bellevue.
We gathered in the morning to hand the keys of our old Temple facility over to new owners, the Three Cedars School. Founding members of Temple Sinai, the original Eastside Temple that merged with Temple De Hirsch in the early 1970s, walked four Torah scrolls and a hand-crafted Eternal Light out of the building to a waiting crowd of walkers.
“The Hebrew word for Jewish law is halacha, which means ‘the way to walk’,” said new Senior Rabbi Daniel Weiner. “Walking is a metaphor for Jewish life. It’s been a tumultuous journey at times, but full of joy as well.” After singing several songs and receiving a send off of “Shalom Chaverim” by Three Cedars officials, parents and students, we began our six-mile trek from one side of Bellevue to another.
Parents with babies in strollers walked beside senior citizens, with every age in between helping those in need. The walk wound its way through some of Bellevue’s most beautiful natural areas: Wilburton Park, Kelsey Creek Park, the Lake Hills Greenbelt and the Spirit Ridge Trail and Park. Spontaneous singing erupted along the route, prompted by Rabbi Weiner and Assistant Rabbis Philip Rice and Shifra Weiss-Penzias and supported by Temple youth.
Many Temple members joined mid-walk after some of the more difficult terrain, all echoing the sentiment that this was a day they wouldn’t miss, even if they could only do a part of the route. At the last stop along the walk, Spirit Ridge Park, everyone gathered to wait for those who straggled behind so that we all could walk as a group over and across I-90 to the foot of the new Temple’s driveway. The excitement was palpable and the cheering audible as everyone realized we were just minutes away from our destination.
We stopped again at the bottom of 156th Avenue S.E. and waited again.
I had been filming video of the entire walk, but left the group to run ahead to the top of the hill so I could film the walkers as they streamed into the new Temple’s parking lot. If the walkers were tired, they showed no sign of it as they marched the Torahs to their new home. Happy smiles and faces full of enthusiasm streamed by.
I stopped a moment to think, as the last walker passed me, that only a year ago, a similarly excited assembly stood in a roughly cleared lot full of dirt to break ceremonial ground for the beautiful new facility complete and ready behind me.
For most Temple members, this was their first glimpse of the new facility they had been talking to each other about and seeing progress photos of in our Temple newsletter. The sanctuary, with its gleaming maple walls, magnificent east window wall and art glass and sculpted metal Aron Ha Kodesh (ark or cabinet that holds the Torahs). Gleaming light filled the expanse of the 300-person Social Hall. Three floors in two connected buildings contain classrooms, administrative offices, meeting rooms, a book and video library, gift shop and full catering kitchen.
This dream, finally realized, was years in the planning. The realization that nearly 60 percent of the congregation lived on the Eastside and the over capacity crowds at many events held at the old Bellevue facility were clear indications that our Temple family needed a new home. Synagogue members raised nearly $9.7 million to construct this new facility designed by Weinstein-Copeland Architects and built by Rafn Construction.
After their trek, hungry and thirsty walkers were rewarded with hot dogs and liquid refreshment. Before walking the Torahs in to the new Sanctuary and Ark, a mezuzah was affixed to the front door of the new Temple. Executive Director Larry Broder and Building Committee member Art Siegal shared in the well-deserved honor of attaching the mezuzah. Both had contributed countless hours to seeing this project to completion.
The Torahs were escorted to their new home in a procession led by Rabbis Weiner, Rice and Weiss-Penzias, as well as Rabbi Emeritus, Earl Starr. It was Rabbi Starr’s vision that Temple De Hirsch Sinai have a larger, more significant presence on the Eastside that spurred on early efforts to plan and execute this project. The Torahs circulated among the congregation and Cantor Marina Belenky led everyone singing “It Is A Tree of Life.” Once the Torahs were in the ark, the Temple was dedicated in a brief ceremony. Board President Jon Rosen pointed out that this day, the ninth of the ninth month added up to chai, a great number for Judaism.
During the dedication ceremony, I looked into the faces of members of my Temple family as I stood in the balcony of the new Sanctuary. I saw smiles of happiness and tears of joy. We all realized at the end of this monumental day that the Torahs were in their new Eastside home and so were we.
(Ken Schlegel is the director of member services at Temple De Hirsch Sinai.)