Long Grove synagogue completes renovations in time
for new year
By Ruth Gesmer Silverman
Daily Herald Correspondent
Posted Friday, September 22, 2006
When the families of Temple Chai gather
tonight for the first High Holy Days service in their
renovated sanctuary, all eyes will be drawn to one wall.
Above the new, cherry wood ark that holds the hand-written
Torah scrolls, panels of vivid stained glass radiate
the sunlight. Brilliant reds and yellows form the burning
bush, which emanates from the center of the ark.
Lights beneath the outside soffit create a similar effect
It has taken seven years and more than $2 million for
the Long Grove synagogue to renovate the sanctuary.
Two days before Rosh Hashana, the Jewish New Year, Senior
Rabbi Stephen Hart was a little awestruck as he watched
workers complete the arks installation.
The new chairs will be in place for the first High Holy
Days services tonight, the 29th of Elul in the Jewish
calendar, and continuing Saturday, the first day of
The space in which we sit should be one that motivates
and inspires us, and enables us to feel a deeper connection
to this time of year, Hart said.
The renovation is the first major work done to the building
since it first opened in 1979.
To do it, the temple turned to member Mike Firsel to
run the renovation committee. Firsel grew up in Reform
congregations in South Shore and Oak Park before becoming
president of Beth Tikvah, in Hoffman Estates at 30.
A real estate developer, Firsel and the committee knew
what they and others in the congregation sought.
We wanted ideas that were clean, crisp and timeless;
we wanted warmth and comfort and spirituality,
The committee tapped Nevin Hedlund, an architectural
firm with extensive experience in sanctuary design,
including Congregation Beth Am in Buffalo Grove.
For the bimah, including the glass and the ark, the
temple turned to the same California team that did Beth
Am, David and Michelle Plachte-Zuibback.
It was their idea that the stained glass would contain
the words that are central to Jewish prayer and are
recited and sung more than once in every Jewish service.
Reading right to left, the Hebrew reads, Shma
Yisrael, Adonai Eloheinu, Adonai Echod! (Hear, O Israel,
Adonai (Almighty) is our God, Adonai is One.
Other scattered letters on both sides of the central
window panels represent the unformed world, organized
only when those letters become words.
The doors on the cherry wood ark, lighted from inside,
depict the initial words of the Ten Commandments, as
given to Moses at Sinai. Inside the ark, dressed in
white covers for the High Holy Days, the Torah scrolls
are upright against curved back rests.
When the door panels are back-lit, red pomegranates
are visible. They are meant to recall the teachings
of the ancient rabbis who said there are 613 seeds in
each fruit, the same number of mitzvot (good deeds)
Torah commands all Jews to observe.
The sanctuary has been in the works for seven years,
but it was only in the last few weeks it all came together.
In one day, the entire interior was gutted. During the
next few weeks, contractors built and painted new walls
in the expanded space, installed new lighting, windows
and a new sound system, laid new carpeting and readied
the bimah, the raised area at the front of the room.
The process was not as smooth as it sounds, however.
Earlier this week, the wooden crates arrived holding
the long-awaited hand-cast, leaded-glass windows. When
opened, however, there were broken panes in each of
After some quick phone calls and e-mails between Firsel,
President Michael Weiss, Executive Director Larry Glickman
and the designers, it was determined David would have
to fly in from San Francisco to make repairs.
He packed no clothes or toiletries; he selected and
carefully packed the right pieces of glass, along with
some lead, solder, a soldering gun and a few tools into
a small suitcase.
I was up at 3 a.m. Monday to get to the airport,
arrived at OHare, got to the temple and went to
work, he said, while putting the finishing touches
on newly soldered and leaded panes. By 4 p.m. Monday
he was ready to leave for his return flight to San Francisco.
Firsel is effusive.
David and Michelle have proven to be two of the
most gifted and creative artistic talents around,
he said. The expressive and tasteful symbolism
and messages they display in their work is awe-inspiring
and genuine. Their work will add a considerable degree
of solemnity and spirituality to our sanctuary and our
Plachte-Zuibback, meanwhile, attributes the change in
speed to one thing.
Its Mike Firsel, he said. He
made it all happen.
As more than 1,000 area families come to Temple Chai
tonight to welcome the new year 5767, they will no doubt
appreciate the effort.
And long after the final note of the shofar sounds the
end of the High Holy Days, on the afternoon of Yom Kippur,
Oct. 2, its designers hope the sacred art will still
resonate with its own call to worship.