By Laura Porter
WORCESTER – On Saturday, June 9, Temple Emanuel Sinai in Worcester will celebrate its fifth year as a synagogue with “Welcome Home to Our Sacred Space,” the grand opening of its reconstructed building at 661 Salisbury St.
The evening will feature Havdalah, the burying of a new time capsule, a concert by singer-songwriter Noam Katz and an elegant dessert reception.
First and foremost, however, will be the consecration of the expanded and redesigned temple itself.
“We use ‘consecration’ instead of ‘dedication’ because it’s holy,” says Rabbi Valerie Cohen. “It’s not just holy because of our great space, but also because of how we got there.”
The synagogue dates from the integration of Worcester’s two Reform temples, Temple Emanuel and Temple Sinai in 2013. Lengthy discussions about a permanent home for the blended congregation led to decisions to sell the former Temple Emanuel building on May Street, and to hold a capital campaign that would fund a renovation and expansion of the former Temple Sinai on Salisbury Street.
“As a newly integrated entity, we wanted to establish a space that everybody together would look at as our unified new home,” says Jeff Greenberg, president of TES.
The congregation’s values were reflected in the campaign’s name, “Shelanu,” or “ours,” in Hebrew as well as its tagline: “Rebuilding our Community and Securing our Future.”
Since 2015, under the guidance of chairs Carol and Michael Sleeper and David and Marlene Persky, the ongoing campaign has raised $3.5 million and counting.
Contributions multiplied, and Greenberg says, “It turned into a wildly successful grassroots campaign.”
Concurrently, conversations about building design were continuing with the architectural firm of Brawer & Hauptman of Philadelphia. Congregants met with the architects in workshops to make decisions about what they wanted and needed in a building.
With the campaign well underway and the blueprints in place, TES broke ground in August 2017. Over the course of the next eight months, the original building was essentially gutted. At the same time, the front face was expanded outward to encompass a glass double entryway, an enormous lobby, and a suite of offices for clergy and staff.
Throughout the construction period, the TES congregation worshiped, studied and celebrated lifecycle events at area religious institutions, both Jewish and non-Jewish, reflecting the possibilities inherent in interfaith collaboration and the generosity of both the Greater Worcester faith and the Jewish communities.
On April 13, a “soft” opening of the new synagogue brought the community into the finished space for the first time.
“The night that it opened – not just leadership and the longtime cheerleaders but everyone – looked around and was emotionally blown away,” says Greenberg.
Congregants arrived to discover a striking transformation: a modern design of sleek wood and tile in earth tones that also incorporates physical memories of the synagogue’s history. Enormous windows on every side of the building shimmer with light and the brush of trees, bringing the outside in. Every space, including the sanctuary and a brand new glass-walled beit midrash off the lobby, has been configured and furnished to allow for multiple uses.
A new ark, sleek in design and symbolism, sits on the bimah, but the original doors of the ark from Temple Sinai, encased in glass, meet visitors as they enter the building; elements of the Temple Emanuel ark have been incorporated into the ark in the beit midrash.
On June 9 the community celebrates this journey. Judy Shriber, head of the campaign communications committee has spearheaded the event, and cites the “commitment and dedication from so many people in the congregation that made this happen. It ensures a Reform Jewish presence for many years into the future.”
Dignitaries have been invited to the event, including Rep. Jim McGovern and Senators Elizabeth Warren and Edward Markey.
“June 9 is a way to express our joy and to share it with the community,” says Rabbi Valerie. “We’re not an isolated community; we’re part of the Jewish community and part of the Greater Worcester community. We’re acknowledging and sharing that.”
She is certainly not alone in connecting the synagogue’s evolution to Worcester’s own ongoing cultural and economic growth: “This stage in Temple Emanuel Sinai’s life, as a new fresh, vibrant congregation, is part of that renaissance.”
And, she adds, “It’s also about gratitude. And in the Jewish way, when something major happens that’s new in your life, it’s a simcha, and you’re commanded to celebrate. So, we’re throwing a party!”
CAP: The renovated and reconfigured sanctuary at Temple Emanuel Sinai.