Years of planning, designing, fundraising, vision, and devotion led to the culmination and formal presentation of the remodeled sanctuary at Ahavath Achim Synagogue on Peachtree Battle Avenue on Aug. 20.
Synagogue president Gary Alembik said, “We have taken elements from our past and made them part of our present and future.”
Alembik continued, “AA’s first synagogue building on Gilmer Street had its bimah in the middle with wooden pews facing it from both the center and along the walls. Today, our new bimah is in the center of the sanctuary, just a few steps up from the congregation around it. What delights me most is how we’ve been able to honor our historic roots while creating a space that will foster the culture and values of the congregation we are becoming.”
The new design provides for greater light by bringing in natural sunlight through the dome which originally featured an opaque cover. In-the-round seating connects congregants, and still retains the stained-glass windows, along with elevated sound quality. The new space also shifts to rearrange the seating to accommodate layouts from a circle of chairs with a candlelit center, room for dancing, and space for children to a set up for thousands attending the Eizenstat Lecture.
The dedication weekend began with Shabbat dinner and services, Saturday services and the dedication at 11 a.m. on Sunday, Aug. 20, with 275 attendees.
Senior Rabbi Laurence Rosenthal began with a D’var Torah and heartfelt appreciation for the committees and volunteers responsible for the construction and execution of the new sanctuary.
Rabbi Rosenthal acknowledged the efforts of Dr. Mark Stern, joking that Stern “is still picking out paint samples and wood choices” and that he “operates out of a place of love.”
Executive Director Barry Herman received the longest standing ovation for his contributions which were “equivalent to running three different companies concurrently.”
Alembik, alongside program chairs Nikki Novotny and Adam Hirsch, shared reflections about the mission and progress of the synagogue.
Eliot Meadow, vice president of the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism, praised AA’s commitment to justice and empathy. “Ahavath Achim is a shining example of our thriving Conservative movement.”
A bubbly and energetic group of Kesher students were accompanied by Rabbi Sam Blustin who passed the microphone to uplifted voices. Rabbi Josh Warshawsky and violinist Coleen Dieker were visiting professionals.
Congregants Sarah Cohen and Shelly Dollar relayed how the new space accommodates various levels of abilities: addressing mobility concerns with automatic door openers, wide aisles, ramps — which can be raised or lowered, plus technology to aid the hearing impaired. Sara Papier and Bethany Taylor Smith relished the future and how children are engaging.
Stern then switched the agenda to welcome the Czech Torah No. 1335, which had been stationed in the synagogue museum hallway for the past 46 years, as he traced its circuitous route from outside Prague (in the mid-1800s) to England in 1963, onto AA in 1977, and sponsored by the late Ruth and Sol Singer. The Torah was sent to Miami for restoration, and later, AA members got to participate in its “letter by letter” writing.
Congregants Gail (whose father’s estate of Leon Goldstein bequeathed this restoration gift)) and Lyons Heyman escorted the Torah to the awaiting ark which had also just been refurbished by Miriam Strickman Levitas.
All past board and Sisterhood presidents came to the bimah to recite a blessing before a record-setting lengthy shofar blowing by former president Mark Cohen. A rousing, circling horah ended the ceremony.
City Council member and former mayoral candidate, Mary Norwood, told the AJT, “What a privilege it has been here today to share in this celebration and dedication. The congregation is such an important part of Atlanta and we both [alongside Council member Matt Westmoreland] commend this outstanding achievement.”
Video messages touting the occasion are available on the AA website from Mayor Andre Dickens, Sen. Jon Ossoff, and Southeast Israeli Consul General Anat Sultan-Dadon.
- Marcia Caller Jaffe
- Ahavath Achim Synagogue
- Gary Alembik
- Eizenstat Lecture
- Senior Rabbi Laurence Rosenthal
- Dr. Mark Stern
- Barry Herman
- Nikki Novotny
- Adam Hirsch
- Eliot Meadow
- United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism
- Rabbi Sam Blustin
- Rabbi Josh Warshawsky
- Coleen Dieker
- Sarah Cohen
- Shelly Dollar
- Sara Papier
- Bethany Taylor Smith
- Ruth and Sol Singer
- Gail and Lyons Heyman
- Miriam Strickman Levitas
- Mary Norwood
- Mayor Andre Dickens
- Sen. Jon Ossoff
- Southeast Israeli Consul General Anat Sultan-Dadon