Beth Shalom celebrates synagogue expansion

06/13/2014 10:52 AM

06/16/2014 10:16 AM

Not once in its history has Beth Shalom been able to host Rosh Hashanah or Yom Kippur services at its home on Yates Mill Pond Road near Cary.

The facility, built 14 years ago for about 100 local families that practice Reform Judaism, served them well for most occasions. But it was too small to serve the hundreds of Jewish families around the Triangle that observe the High Holy Days at Beth Shalom, so the group used facilities at local churches.

This year, that will change.

Beth Shalom, which was started 30 years ago by four local families as part of the Cary Jewish Community Center, recently completed a $2.1 million expansion of its synagogue.

Membership has grown steadily over the years as more people have moved to the Triangle, according to temple leaders.

To accommodate the growth, Beth Shalom added 6,000 square feet – more than doubling the size of its facility – to include a new sanctuary and space for classes, meetings and overflow seating.

“What started years ago as a vision for our future is now here,” said Rabbi Ariel Edery, a native of Argentina who lives in Holly Springs. “We are here and here to stay.”

Beth Shalom, which boasts more than 230 member families, hosted about 380 people for its dedication service on May 9.

The service included singing, dancing and prayer. As the Torah scrolls were carried into the new sanctuary, Cathy Snow couldn’t help but think of Exodus 25:8, which says “let them make me a sanctuary so that I may dwell among them.”

It was an emotional experience, she said.

It took about seven years to plan and build the sanctuary, which sits where a parking lot used to be.

Before the construction was finished, “We would see kids pressing their nose against the windows to look in (the new sanctuary),” Snow said.

The old sanctuary resembles a gym, with hardwood floors and fold-out tables that the congregation would move as it transformed the room from a worship area to an event space.

“There’s something to be said about finishing your service and being able to walk into a room that’s already set up for your event,” Arlene Zeiler said.

The floors and pews in the new sanctuary are lined with a vibrant blue carpet. The ceiling is wooden and has a skylight shaped like the Star of David.

Perhaps the most engaging feature of the new worship space is the lamp that now hangs over the ark.

The lamp, known as the “ner tamid” (pronounced near ta-meed), means eternal light in Hebrew and represents God’s constant presence. The ner tamid at Beth Shalom emits a soft light from the shape of a flame from a menorah.

Edery compared the old sanctuary to the new one by saying, “It’s like wearing a nice suit versus wearing a T-shirt.”

He hopes it helps Beth Shalom’s members feel more at home. Many live in Cary and southern Wake County, and some come from as far away as Sanford, Durham and Smithfield.

But most aren’t from North Carolina originally, Edery said.

“It’s possible they didn’t feel at home here because (the old sanctuary) didn’t look like synagogues where they are from,” he said. “This is a ‘real temple,’ as my kids say.”

He looks forward to accommodating newcomers, too.

“The Jewish community is not invitation-only,” he said.

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