Stone Family Sanctuary
Stone Family Sanctuary
A time to view our Sanctuary in a different way
The architectural design of the sanctuary was inspired by our theme of “Entering The Future, Remembering Our Past”. The exterior of the building and the design elements of the interior are intended to reflect 21st century American architecture and materials. The inside of the sanctuary incorporates design elements that are intended to be reminiscent of sanctuaries from our past, drawing on elements that were commonly found in the houses of worship that were the center of the Jewish communities throughout Eastern Europe and elsewhere around the world.
The overall feel of the sanctuary is intended to evoke harmony between spiritual elements and nature, blending elements of our environment with sacred objects. On the exterior, grass, water and olive trees create a park-like atmosphere in our plaza. On the interior, the floors are dark earthen brown. Wood rises from our pews and on both sides of our ark, reaching up to the dark blue ceiling with its star-like lights. From the skylight ceiling, sunlight bathes the entire room.
Once you enter the lobby of the sanctuary, the elements that are reminiscent of our past become immediately apparent. Recalling how we are the people of the torah, our ancestors frequently inscribed torah portions on the walls of their sanctuaries. Drawing on that inspiration and trying to capture the feeling on Simchah Torah, when the Torah scroll is unrolled and wraps the congregation, our sanctuary is wrapped in glass panels, each inscribed with a different portion of the Torah selected by our Rabbi, creating the feeling of being wrapped in the Torah as we stand, sit or pray in this sacred space.
In the lobby, several traditional features are incorporated into the design; a sink for washing one’s hands before entering the sanctuary, a manual clock that designates the times for each of the daily services, a yahrtzeit wall where congregants can manually mark the passing of their loved ones by placing a stone on their marker and tzedakah boxes in which congregants can place contributions to designated causes.
Once inside the sanctuary, one immediately recognizes that this is not a typical contemporary house of worship.
Adopting the core principle that the members of Congregation Beth El participate and pray together, the entire sanctuary was laid out in a manner to promote connection, community and togetherness. Rather than having a large floor space, with the pews facing forward and there being a stage upon which the Ark, Bimah and seats for clergy are located, our sanctuary is designed with the Bimah in the center, seats on both sides facing the Bimah, the clergy seats among all of the congregants, and balconies providing the required seating while maintaining a sense of intimacy. This is a style that was common in 18th and 19th century synagogues, before the advent of theatre-style seating commonly found in 20th century synagogue design and construction.
The Bimah, which is located in the center of the sanctuary, serves as both the place for davening from the Torah- facing east and toward our Ark. It also allows uses from the other side, facing the congregation, including the delivery of sermons and speeches and the conducting of non-Torah reading portions of the services.
The Ark in Beth El’s sanctuary adopts a feature found in ancient synagogues and abandoned in modern design. Rather than the Ark being a cabinet in which the Torah is stored, the Arks in synagogues of the past were rooms, where one entered to retrieve the holy scripture. Those rooms were typically sealed with a parochet, an ornate painted or tapestry panel that was lifted to revel the Torah room. At Beth El, we have created such an Ark- a Torah room covered with a magnificent tapestry parochet that reads Ma Norah HaMakom Hazeh, which translates to “How Awesome is this Place” (Genesis, 28:17).
The view from each seat within the sanctuary- whether on the ground floor or in the balcony- is intended to communicate a different perspective- from the angle of viewing the ark and bimah, to the landscaping seen on the outside, to the Torah portions one can read on our window panels. Beth El’s sanctuary is a sacred space that will move and inspire each person differently but which will hopefully inspire and move all.