Sunday, May 28, 2006

Synagogue seats now face east - A Conservative Temple turns into an Orthodox Shul

Temple B'nai Zion in Sunny Isles Beach, which recently switched from Conservative to Orthodox, has undergone a unique renovation to comply with its new set of guidelines.

The temple's seats, which previously faced west, were rotated to face east, toward Jerusalem, as Orthodox rules require. The ark where the Torah is kept was also moved and a separate section was created for women because orthodoxy mandates that women sit separately from men and not participate in Torah readings.

In another change, Orthodox members can't use machinery during the Sabbath, which means no microphones at services and no travel by car to get to temple.

Shifting demographics in the area -- toward younger and more Orthodox Jews -- inspired the change, said temple director Ahuva Franco. They needed a synagogue where they could pray that was within walking distance of their homes and followed the Orthodox guidelines they were accustomed to.

''If they came in and saw women and men praying together, they would not pray in my synagogue,'' said Franco's husband, temple President Isaac Franco.

The decision was made last summer; construction began in January. The temple, at 200 178th St., reopened before Passover in April.

''It came out to be a very beautiful synagogue,'' Franco said.

Although most synagogues do face east, B'nai Zion was previously a church. And, while there had been discussions about changing the direction of the bima, or altar, the temple lacked the money to pay for it until more people became members.

The previous layout was ''really backwards,'' Franco said, but because most members of the temple were older, there wasn't much impetus to renovate. When younger people started moving into the community, he and other members saw a chance to change.

''We really saw an opportunity to keep the synagogue open,'' he said.

Despite the major change, membership has remained constant, and only three of about 200 members who voted on the change opposed it, Franco said.

''Some gripe, but they come,'' he said.

The renovations took ''a miracle from God and a little bit of ingenuity'' -- and just under $25,000, Franco said.

The B'nai Zion switch to orthodoxy is an anomaly. Most communities are making the opposite change, either to Conservative or Reform Judaism, Franco said.

Some less restrictive synagogues do not face east and say that nothing in the Bible says they have to. The Conservative Aventura Turnberry Jewish Center, 20400 NE 30th Ave., has its main sanctuary facing south by design.

''What you have to face is the Torah,'' said Aventura Turnberry director Amir Baron.

``There is no law at all in the Bible that says temples have to face east.''

Whether worshipers will face east or not depends on minhag, or local custom, he said.

Meyer Gorin of Arkidesign Inc., a Jewish architecture group, also says the direction doesn't matter as long as worshipers don't have their backs turned to the sacred scrolls. ''Tradition says you pray facing the east, yes,'' but ultimately, it's the rabbi's decision, he said.

Baron said his temple's smaller, everyday sanctuary does face east.

''We did nothing wrong,'' he said.

B'nai Zion's Franco acknowledged that each synagogue can decide how it will interpret the rules.

''I respect whatever they do,'' he said.



When I was a kid growing up in the 50's - it was the other way around. One Orthodox Shul after another became Conservative, as the veterans came home from WW II and the Korean War and were not as religiously observant as their parents who wre still mostly "greenhorns" "off the boat".


According to the Rav here, one should face Jerusalem (i.e East from USA and Europe) even if it means having one's back to the Aron HaKodesh.


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