In today’s high-paced world, we all need to become more adaptable. Synagogues are no exception. There are many ways in which a synagogue’s resources can be used to greater advantage when the planning is right.
One of the main considerations when revitalizing a synagogue or building a new one is “How can we put our investment to the best use for the community? How can we make the place more economically viable”?
These are very valid points when construction costs are high, land is in short supply and creative ways are needed to attract larger congregations. For example, why not host the whole Bar Mitzvah festivities and not just the Aliyah to the Torah? If you have good facilities, your community will embrace it.
There may be reservations about using a synagogue as a multi-purpose hall, and consultation with the rabbi is advised when touching halachic aspects. If the place is called a ‘synagogue’, is this sufficient to prevent other uses of the area? Should there be another hall with a different name to it? Some people believe that it’s forbidden to hold events in the synagogue without a religious character. The planning team will cover all these points, and more.
Assuming you wish to give multi-purpose value to your synagogue, how do you go about it? At Lavi Furniture Industries we’ve seen many permutations on this theme and can offer the following advice:
For seating arrangements to be as modular as possible, it is recommended that in some areas the chairs be individual ones rather than benches. These seats can be stacked and stored at the end of the event, using specially trolleys that can take chairs 12-high.
There should be a store of lightweight occasional tables measuring 40 cms wide and 2 to 2.4 meters long. This is comfortable for four people. The legs should fold for easier storage.
If the partitions in the synagogue are designed to be moveable, they will serve not only during prayer services but also at events where there is separation (such as dancing at a wedding or bar mitzvah). Alternatively some partitions could be fixed while others are portable and easily stored.
This lectern can be used not only by the cantor during prayer or sermon, but also by the lecturer during a lesson or lecture. A lectern with a multi-purpose use should be light and moveable rather than be heavy and made of solid wood.
The synagogue’s library areas can also double as meeting rooms. The libraries themselves should have lockable doors and also have sliding screens. In this way the room can be elegantly and quickly transformed with the minimum of inconvenience.
The reading platform can be designed to be moveable with a steel chassis and lockable wheels. For ease of movement the platform can be constructed in two halves that are easy to assemble and disassemble.
The reading table for the synagogue (if required) should be portable and easy to transport. Since many synagogues have a storage problem, a good solution is to arrange for the table to be stored at the bottom of the Aron Kodesh.
The Holy Ark is a permanent fixture within the synagogue, with a minimum cabinet size of 1.2 meters wide and 2.5 meters high for the three Torah scrolls inside. Most religious experts agree that there should be additional screening between the Ark and the hall. The ideal solution is to add external doors that open before prayer. These also provide additional protection against theft and fire.
The best recommendation is to share your future plans for the synagogue with the architect and a specialist supplier such as Lavi Furniture Industries. Let them advise your team on the most sensible way forward. You may be pleasantly surprised!