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New Haven’s Orchard Street Shul finishes stained-glass window in time for Rosh Hashan

Post Time:Sep 06,2013Classify:Industry NewsView:349

NEW HAVEN >> For Rabbi Mendy Hecht, completion of the stained-glass window featuring the Star of David above the front entrance door in time for the synagogue’s fourth Rosh Hashana symbolizes the Shul’s persistence.


I just think it is very fitting to have this particular Star of David be illuminated in color,” Hecht said. “I think it is a source of pride for the Shul people involved and for what it really represents.”


The stained-glass Star of David is a part of the four-month restoration process that Hecht and Schul President Lee Liberman have spearheaded to return the synagogue to what it once was.


Opening it’s doors 100 years ago, the Shul, an Orthodox synagogue, was at what Liberman described as the center of the Jewish community in New Haven.


Legion Avenue was so close and 20 years ago, that was the center of all the Jewish shops in the city,” Liberman said. “People lived around here.”


Originally located down the street from the Shul’s current location at 232 Orchard St., the building the synagogue sits in now was constructed for the members in 1924.


On the high holidays, the synagogue was so crowded, we used to have to have a policeman stand at the front door to keep people out,” Liberman said of the synagogue, which can seat 500 people.


The Shul held regular services and Hecht’s grandfather Maurice Hecht was the rabbi for the synagogue for 50 years. Shul Vice President Mark Shiffrin said that sometime around the 1970s the synagogue stopped having regular services.


People became elderly, kids graduated, went to college elsewhere, people moved elsewhere,” Liberman said.


Shiffrin said due to redevelopment and people moving away from the area, the synagogue’s attendance dropped.


We went through a long spell where all we had were board meetings and we would say ‘OK, bills are paid,’” Liberman said. “It looked very discouraging for years.”


Despite a functioning board of directors to oversee the building and synagogue, the building began to deteriorate during the dormant period.


Shiffrin said the front doors wouldn’t work, the front steps were broken and there were leaks in the building where water would come through the bricks. The Star of David featured in the front window above the main entrance had been replaced with plain glass.


Mendy wanted to bring the synagogue back to life,” Shiffrin said. “Lee wanted to as well so they came together with the board of directors and reinstituted regular services.”


Hecht approached Liberman and the board of directors in 2010, and the same year they decided to move forward to reinstate services for the Jewish community in the area.


That was the first year the synagogue celebrated Rosh Hashana again. Toward the end of 2011, Hecht said they decided to resume weekly services.


Four months ago we had that first Friday service and we had about 60 people, which was phenomenal,” Liberman said. “I don’t know what it was, whatever it was curiosity, I don’t know.”


Liberman said Rabbi Hecht has been very instrumental in getting people to come to services.


His engagement with people when they come in, he acknowledges everyone, talks to them, he is very friendly and establishes a good rapport with people,” Liberman said. “Even if it is not their first time, he always greets them very nicely; it gives you a really good feeling.”


In 2012 they began the major restoration that Liberman said the building needed.


The place was in such terrible condition, it was almost as if it was beyond being able to do anything,” Liberman said.


Liberman said that Shiffrin was a big help gathering contractors and negotiating. He continued on to say that the majority of the donations they gathered to pay for the renovations came from dues of members of the Orchard Street Shul.


We have a lot of members who pay dues who live in California, Florida, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Maine,” Liberman said. “They belong still because they were here at one time as children whose parents and grandparents came here, they still send their contributions.”


Shiffrin said that other donations came from places such as United Illuminating, Webster Bank, Cherry Hill Construction as well as many philanthropists such as Barry Vine, Evelyn Maze, Jimmy Shure as well as many others.


We did many of the upgrades needed in a modern public building,” Shiffrin said.


The front doors and steps were fixed, the stain-glass windows on either side of the front doors were restored to their original state, climate control was installed, the inside of the synagogue was painted, the chandeliers were rehung, smoke detectors were installed as well as many other features brought back to what they used to look like.


The most recent and important to Hecht and Shiffrin was the completion of the stain-glass window Star of David on the front of the building as well as the gold-leaf signage over the main entrance door which is in Yiddish and states the Shul’s name Congregation Beth Israel.


To return the Star of David to its original state, Shiffrin said they hired a stained-glass artisan Mike Skrtic of The Glass Source in Shelton. The glass of the Star of David was made to match the stained-glass in the windows next to the main entrance doors and was the same color glass that was originally installed when the building was first erected.


Members of the Shul and those who come to the Rosh Hashana services Thursday and Friday at 9 a.m. as well as the Yom Kippur services next Friday at 6:45 p.m. and Saturday at 9:30 a.m. will see the Star of David as they enter the building.


This is symbolic for the Shul and for the larger Jewish community,” Shiffrin said. “We prevailed; we remained active in New Haven.”


Shiffrin said the synagogue isn’t about the window being replaced but the window is about the synagogue and the larger story of Jewish people and the holiday.


For Hecht, the window symbolizes the larger picture of the synagogue and what the synagogue will be for it’s members and the community.


We are trying to build a post-denominational synagogue, one that is beyond labels,” Hecht said. “We want people to come in and have an experience, create a place where people feel comfortable to be themselves in a traditional setting.”


Although the attendance to weekly services leveled off after that first one four months ago, Liberman said the synagogue members include 120 families. As for attendance to high holiday celebrations, both Liberman and Shiffrin were unsure how many people will come.


The Orchard Street Shul does not require tickets to high holiday celebrations but rather is open to whomever wants to attend.


It is very gratifying for me to see this symbol of Jewish life remaining, restored and reinvigorated,” Shiffrin said. “In the old neighborhood, people like Lee would not give up on the synagogue so it may not have been used regularly but they didn’t give up on it.”


Although most of the work is done, Liberman said there are still some updates to finish on the Shul. The ceiling needs to be painted with the detail that once outlined the walls and they are currently trying to raise money for a new roof as well as making the building handicap accessible.


I think my grandfather would be very happy to know that the efforts he put in here are still bearing fruit,” Hecht said. “The people and lives he touched can still come back to a place that they have memories and feeling of.

Source: http://www.nhregister.com/social-affairs/20130905/Author: shangyi

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