Let There Be Light: Congregation Beth Israel Opens Renovated Transitional Sanctuary | Shalom Austin

Let There Be Light: Congregation Beth Israel Opens Renovated Transitional Sanctuary

The Jewish Outlook

Aug 31, 2023

New Ner Tamid made of recovered stained glass at Congregation Beth Israel. Credit: Laura Corman

By Jake Cohen

Almost two years since the arson that rendered the sanctuary at Congregation Beth Israel unusable, CBI has a brand-new space to gather, worship, and celebrate life’s important milestones: Smith Auditorium, the congregation’s former social hall.

In early 2022, the CBI Board of Directors engaged Heimsath Architects, a locally renowned architecture firm specializing in congregations, with the task of creating a transitional sanctuary space in the congregation’s social hall. 

“Over the past 67 years, Smith has led so many different lives. It has been a worship space, an early childhood center, a social hall, and now it will serve as a beautiful transitional sanctuary for worship while still supporting the many events throughout the year that bring our community together,” shared Laura Corman, past president of the CBI Board of Directors and head of the Smith Task Force.

The new space was officially blessed August 25, at a special Grand Reopening Shabbat Service featuring Ben and Sandi Heimsath, Zapalac-Reed Construction, Stanton Glass, Tired Dog Furniture, and Omega Broadcast & Cinema.

During the construction phase, St. Matthew’s Episcopal Church welcomed CBI into their congregational home, inviting CBI to hold Shabbat services, High Holidays, B’nei Mitzvah, funerals, and other milestone events in their space, at no charge.

“This beautifully renovated sacred space represents the long history, resilience, and optimism of CBI,” said Sarah Holland, president of the CBI Board of Directors.

“In addition to the outpouring of support from the Jewish and broader Austin faith community, we are deeply grateful to St. Matt’s for welcoming us into their home after the arson attack.”

The transitional sanctuary will serve as CBI’s place of worship over the next several years while the congregation develops a Campus Master Plan. The transitional sanctuary will seat up to 500 people and includes state-of-the-art technology, an A/V room, a rediscovered and refurbished terrazzo floor, and a new bimah, torah ark, and furniture. The Bimah will be framed by stained glass recovered from the original sanctuary and a Ner Tamid rebuilt from fire-damaged glass.

“Now, with joy and excitement, we eagerly look forward to filling our space with prayer, song, and celebration once again,” said Holland. “We are thrilled to welcome the community into our stunning new transitional sanctuary.”

For more information on attending services at CBI, please contact Sarah Jew, director of community engagement, at sjew@bethisrael.org

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