Belmont celebrates its new refurbishment
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Wednesday 26th June 2019

A shiur given by Chief Rabbi Mirvis was the occasion for the Belmont community to celebrate a brand new Aron HaKodesh and a totally new look for the main hall of the shul. In a £300,000, five year project, both the inside and outside of Belmont synagogue have been transformed. Barbara Mazliah, Chairman of the shul said “the goals were to create a more accessible building, maximising light and placing a modern interpretation on ancient symbols”. The refurbishment took ancient plants and modern interpretations of the Psalms to give a total fresh look to the grounds and building. Stepping through the gates, it is clear to see how the community’s passion for Israel has brought the old and the new together. A mini-biblical garden, has a vine alongside olive, fig, pomegranate and palm trees. Dedicated to the memory of the children who were slaughtered in the Holocaust, the trees emerge from a lay out in stones of the Israeli flag.  

 

Entering the building, members and visitors alike can see wonderful images of the natural landscape of Israel. On the way to the first floor, one passes photographs of Jerusalem before entering the Jerusalem lounge with an enlarged image of the Western wall as its central feature.

The project commenced with a new Beit Midrash, with embroidery from Meah Shearim, featuring symbols of pomegranates, whose fruitfulness seems to be a repeat theme, inside and out. Work came from all the “Ms”, with the Aron, tables and mechitzahs from Manchester woodworker Andrew Jeffay. The Ner Tamid, eternal light, was specially created by clinical psychologist and glass maker extraordinaire, Claude Riedel of Minnesota. He takes pieces of broken glass and re-moulds them into works of beauty and spirituality, his response to his grand-father witnessing Kristallnacht.

In the main hall bookcases were added to the mobile mechitzahs – the new standing on the old – a symbol of how Judaism operates. Accessibility and light have been a theme of all the work. The new bimah is lower than the original and like all the wood work now adorning the prayer hall, a lighter wood than previously, matching the new lights, an upgraded floor and of course the focal point, the new Aron HaKodesh. Lower and easier to access, it is adorned with two magnificent back lit psalms. They were created by Rabbi Tzvi Moshe Berger, and now cared for and still being shown by R Mordechai Balouka, at the Museum of Psalms in the Old City, Rabbi Berger painted his vision of each of King David’s psalms: Psalm 7 with its letter Yad bursting forth from the original light of creation and Psalm 66 with its rainbow of letters surrounding a Shin, celebrating God’s name of enlightenment, as though a burning bush, with God’s word directly to Moshe. The centre piece is the 10 Commandments engraved on the Aron doors.

More than 130 individuals made donations to this project. Their contributions have been recorded on three specially sculpted Trees. David Lerner, chairman of the refurbishment committee observed that he first got the idea for sculpted trees from the grounds of Budapest’s magnificent Dohany shul, with its silver tree commemorating the members of the community who lost their lives in the Shoah. He then saw tree sculptures at St Joseph’s hospice, created by Oxfordshire metal worker, Christopher Townsend. He was able to take the ideas to sculpt both a Tree of Life, remembering loved ones who had passed away and a Simcha bush, celebrating Bat and Bar mitzvahs, weddings, anniversaries and many, many grandchildren. The third tree is a Pomegranate Donor Tree, at the door of the Beit Midrash. “It truly makes Belmont appear as a Beit Rimon”, a fruitful community, observed David. Members of other communities have asked us how we were able to do a total make over at such a low cost. “We had a small hard working team of 5, each bringing expertise, in different elements of design, interior decoration, cost controls and project management. Giving their time voluntarily, Anthony Broza, Stuart Harris, Salvador Mazliah and Roger Vickers meant that we did not have to pay out funds for a professional designer or project manager, each of which could have added tens of thousands to the cost. It was also essential to consult with the community and maintain the support of the Board and its executive over a five year phased work, making it a project that all members of Belmont feel part of.

by David Lerner  

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