December 8, 2019

New Space, New Light, New Sanctuary at Temple Beth Am

A Torah procession on Temple Beth Am’s Ziering Family Field kicked off a weekend of dedication activities for Beth Am’s renovated Ganzberg Sanctuary.

After a decade of brainstorming, fundraising and construction, Temple Beth Am (TBA) celebrated the completion of its newly renovated Ganzberg Sanctuary this past Shabbat.

“Our new sanctuary is a gift to the entire Jewish community of Los Angeles and beyond,” TBA President Avi Peretz, who worked on the project for the past five years, said in a statement.

The completion of the $7 million project marked the end of the first part of the congregation’s expansion effort. TBA also is building a new gymnasium and expanding its school, Pressman Academy. The new sanctuary now seats more than 390 people. On the High Holy Days, the back of the sanctuary will open into a ballroom for total seating for about 1,000 people.

The dedication festivities kicked off Aug. 30 with a Torah procession from Beth Am’s Ziering Family Field and continued on Saturday with morning learning led by Senior Rabbi Adam Kligfeld, followed by an afternoon tour of the sanctuary led by architect Steve Rajninger of Herman Coliver Locus. The final event was held during Saturday night’s Havdalah ceremony.

The Havdalah ceremony featured blessings from TBA members and community leaders. Attendees included Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, L.A. City Councilman Paul Koretz, recently appointed Consul General of Israel in Los Angeles Hillel Newman, Journal Publisher and Editor-in-Chief David Suissa and Temple Emanuel of Beverly Hills Cantor Lizzie Weiss. 

“My blessing and my wish is this be a place in which everybody can see through the window, to this congregation,” Garcetti said. “[And] from this congregation to our city and from our city, and may that be a place of belonging, of understanding, of healing and of justice in this world that so badly needs it.” 

“One doesn’t think of light in that way. You think of wood, you think of stone, you think of glass — but light really can be a material, too, and I think that’s the material that gives the sense of presence in a sacred space.”— Architect Steve Rajninger

The sanctuary’s new design features pews arranged in a semicircle around the bimah, allowing for prayer in the round, Kligfeld told the Journal. “Prayer is never meant to be frontal but centripetal. We wanted to change the focus of what is happening at the front and who is speaking at the front to how are we joining together, and you’re seeing a return to that in a lot of sanctuaries.”

Congregants Steven Ganzberg and Anne Adair, who donated the lead gift of $2 million, dedicated the sanctuary in memory of Ganzberg’s parents, Holocaust survivors George and Anna Ganzberg, and Ganzberg’s late twin sister, Rena. George was a regular at Beth Am’s Saturday morning services. 

Ganzberg Sanctuary

Rajninger participated in the weekend’s dedication activities. In designing the space, the architect said he paid attention to creating a presence in the room through the use of light. While the original sanctuary was windowless, the new design features a window behind the ark and a large skylight. As the sun moves during Shabbat services, light billows down from the skylight and wraps around the congregation like a tallit, Rajninger said.

“The notion of a presence and how do you create that in a space — I think the way to create it is by using light as a material, as a building material,” Rajninger said. “One doesn’t think of light in that way. You think of wood, you think of stone, you
think of glass — but light really can be a material, too, and I think that’s the material that gives the sense of presence in a sacred space.”

Rajninger also used different woods in the walls and in the sanctuary’s canopy design to make it feel as though the congregants were being held in place, he said.

“The layering of the space, the outer ring of light, the inner warm ring of wood, the delicate canopy which creates the sense of intimacy, almost a nest-like feeling, that was an important quality we really wanted to be expressed in the space,” he said.

Rajninger also wanted to reflect Beth Am’s deep love of learning in the design. To that end, the sanctuary is decorated with 54 “Parsha Panels” for each of the 54 weekly Torah portions. The current Torah portion of the week can be highlighted with lights at the base of each panel.

Then there is the new ark, dedicated by the late Lou Colen. The ark is composed of suspended translucent blocks, featuring holes that are intended to be filled with colorful slips of paper containing congregants’ prayers, dreams and wishes. The concept recalls the ritual of slipping folded notes into the Western Wall in Jerusalem.

“The individual prayers of children and adults of the community will be part of the ark in perpetuity,” Kligfeld said. “This was another way [for the design] to use the ritual and icons of Judaism in the architecture.“

Near the entrance to the sanctuary space is the Hall of Memories, which worshipers pass by as they walk into the prayer space. Inside is the Holocaust Memorial Wall, which was originally created in the 1960s and once flanked the bimah. Because the original memorial was plastered into the wall, it was impossible to remove and relocate the entire piece. Instead, a cast of the original wall was made and a replica was created. 

“Building a sanctuary like this for a strong community of vitality allows it to maintain and elevate its standing and impact on the community, and I hope that ramifies out to great goodness in the world,” Kligfeld said. “If you gave me $7 million, I could find many different ways to spend it for the benefit of Jewish people and humanity. I stand by this as an extraordinary way to bring Jews together for sacred purposes, and now it’s our task to make that happen.”

This article has been updated. A previous version of this article incorrectly stated the amount of the lead gift was $1 million and that the new ark was named the Pressman Ark in honor of the late Rabbi Jacob Pressman.