Beth Israel New Building

Last September, on an exceptionally bright and sunny day, members of Vancouver, BC Canada’s oldest Conservative synagogue gathered in the parking lot of the Jewish Community Center to commemorate a long-awaited event. After almost two years of construction, and patient waiting, Congregation Beth Israel’s 630+ families would finally be able to return “home.”

 The building that had housed the synagogue had been in need of repair for many years. Structural patchwork, periodic updates and loving reconstruction efforts had kept the building in use for the last decade, as congregants tried to figure out how they would pay for a new synagogue that could meet the city’s forward-thinking, sustainable building codes.

 Their success in raising more than $16 million toward this effort speaks as much about the dedication of its membership as it is about the ingenuity that went into planning Western Canada’s first LEED-designed synagogue – a synagogue that would, in keeping with its Conservative ethos, be accessible to all. Just as significant, notes Rabbi Jonathan Infeld, the redesign would allow the congregation to finally orient the sanctuary to face east toward Jerusalem, something that had not been possible when the synagogue was built in the 1940s.

 To ensure there would be no mobility restrictions for congregants, the new bima was also built close to the ground with ramps on either side. Seating was designed for a variety of needs and preferences, and natural lighting was used to enhance directional lighting overhead.

 “This is certainly part of our consciousness: making sure everyone feels welcome and is able to enter and utilize the building is certainly important,” said Infeld, who added that while the building and its design is stunning, it is the congregation and the vibrancy of its membership that is the “[true] soul of the synagogue.”

 “That’s why we exist,” said Infeld, “[and] we must not lose sight of this.”