Sometimes tragedy can turn things around. Temple Beth Sholom (TBS) found that out after the devastating fire in February 2014. With a Master Plan in place for several years now, the fire seemed to be the impetus for moving the idea ahead faster. It had been put on hold due to the recession and staff turnover. “We were working on making the synagogue more user friendly,” says Co-Chair of the Architectural Design Committee Dan Weissberg. “Then the fire happened. We were forced to shift into places we were moving slowly on.” Now the sanctuary and social hall are a priority, and thanks to a $1.5 million donation from the Horowitz Family, a chapel is being built as well. The chapel will be the synagogue’s new spiritual space. “The heart of the new sacred space” says Weissberg.
After speaking with Weissberg, I spoke with Rabbi Heidi Cohen about her thoughts on the synagogue’s transformation.
Jlife: What have you gained the most from this experience?
Rabbi Cohen: Community! I am so honored and touched by how not only our TBS community has come together after the fire last February, but how the entire Jewish community has embraced us. Yes, this was a horrible tragedy that befell our congregation, but there have been so many beautiful silver linings.
Everyone at TBS has been amazing in rolling up their sleeves to work toward the goal of not only rebuilding to where we were pre-fire, but also helping us build for the future.
Jlife: In previous articles we wrote about the metaphorical phoenix rising from the ashes. What is your hope as the rabbi of TBS for the new space?
Rabbi Cohen: Our congregation’s values are life, learning and connections. Through every space of our campus these values will play a very integral role. We are creating a narrative through the design and architecture that will not only be beautiful and functional, but also allow every individual who enters our campus to experience our values in a very personal way. Our building will tell the story of the Jewish people and remind us of the Jewish values and traditions we hold so dear. We are also building for generations to come.
Jlife: What would you hope others learn about TBS from this experience?
Rabbi Cohen: We are resilient! That even in the midst of tragedy we are able to turn to our community to support us and help us rebuild for the future. We are one Jewish community. Yes, we have many congregations in Orange County but we are the Jewish people and as such, we are to support, care for, and envision a future together. We cannot afford to be divided, but rather we must be united through mutual respect of one another’s values as we share one common identity – being a part of K’lal Yisrael, the Jewish people. Α
Dr. Lisa Grajewski is a therapist with Jewish Federation & Family Services in Orange County and an Adjunct Professor at Argosy University and The Chicago School of Professional Psychology. Dr. Grajewski has been with JLife Magazine since 2004.