A recent ZOOM Town Hall for Beth El members introduced congregants to the synagogue’s Building for the Future Campaign. Beth El 2050: Preparing Our Building for the Next Thirty Years. With $3.5 million of the estimated $5.8 million already committed, Beth El plans to have workers in the building this summer.
“Our building on 144th and California is beautiful,” said Rabbi Abraham, “but we use it differently today than we did thirty years ago when we moved here. Over the years, we’ve tried to make worship, learning and programming relevant to our times. The sacred space in which we pray and study and gather as a congregation must be relevant, too, so it meets current and future needs. Our guiding principle during this entire process is to re-imagine Beth El so it works for our grandkids but also reflects our grandparents traditions. So that if they walked through the transformed Beth El space they would be proud.”
Beth El President Ari Riekes said, “While it may seem like a strange time to talk about renovating Beth El when we haven’t been in the building for twelve months because of Covid, it’s heartening to realize how much our synagogue has continued to matter over the past year. Despite the doors being closed, Beth El has been open. With ZOOM, we haven’t missed a single minyan, morning or evening; our High Holiday services were attended by people from all over the country; Shabbat morning services have more participation. And we’ll continue our virtual presence while the Building for the Future construction is under way.”
In addition to Riekes, the Building for the Future Committee includes Rabbi Abraham, Bob Belgrade, Jay Gordman, Allan Murow, Phil Wayne, and Allison Newfeld, Beth El’s Executive Director. Sub-committees representing the varied demographics of the congregation have provided, and will continue to provide, feedback during the process. Marty Shukert and his RDG Planning and Design team are leading the plan and design. Darland Construction is the general contractor.
The project will proceed in phases, with Phase One focusing on the current sanctuary. “The sanctuary at Beth El is a gem,” Rabbi Abraham said. “Our crown jewel. But we need to make the space feel smaller, more intimate, more communal. A space we use fifty-two weeks a year, not just on the High Holidays.” Marty Shukert agreed. “The sanctuary is sort of like the living room you rarely use because it’s so grand,” he said. “We want to keep the architecture intact but create a space within a space.” To this end, the RDG Design team created a circular layout that fosters a sense of community, bringing the bimah down into the congregation where everyone, congregation and clergy, can feel a sense of connection. “Distance isn’t good,” Rabbi Abraham continued. “Distance fractures intimacy. We want to create warmth and togetherness. A place where people of all identities and abilities feel welcome.”
The current Beth El chapel will also be renovated and expanded as part of Phase One. “We plan to convert our chapel into a Beit Midrash — a place for prayer — but also a library, lounge, study center, coffee bar and more,” Shukert said. “It will be a place where we can learn, study, gather, drink coffee, meet and hang out — the day-to-day heart of our congregation.” The Beit Midrash will also house a Zoom room, and will be designed so several activities can occur at the same time. Phase One also includes improvements to the synagogue’s main entrance, public areas and Social Hall. Phase Two will likely see modifications to the offices, rest rooms, education wing plus general site upgrades.
“Rabbi Abraham’s vision and Marty Shukert’s expertise are second to none,” Allan Murow said. “We’re going to proceed in a fiscally responsible way, build in phases with the money we have and not go into debt. Thanks to seed money from several Beth El congregants, Phase One is already funded. As more monies come in we’ll attack the other phases.”
“We’re honored to already have support from so many of our Beth El members,” Rabbi Abraham said. “To bring the entire vision to life, we need additional gifts, and invite all Beth El congregants and members of the entire Jewish Community to join our campaign by contacting Allan Murow at 402.659.7573 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Donations are also accepted at the link below. All gifts, of any size, are welcome and appreciated.”
For more information, please visit http://www.bethel-omaha.org. You'll find Building for the Future on the homepage under featured links, where you can watch a video of our building plans and make your donation.