Re-Dedication of our Sanctuary after reconstruction project, by Paul Timmeney (2008)
Chanukah means “dedication,” and so it is especially appropriate that Beth Emeth’s completely renovated sanctuary was ready for the congregation in late November in time for its dedication ceremony onDecember 8, 2007, Shabbat Chanukah. In fact, the dedication was a two day event beginning with Saturday’s Shabbat service and concluding with a special Sunday program of rededication held for children attending Beth Emeth’s religious school and their families.
A festive atmosphere greeted those who attended the Shabbat service. The lobby was crowded with early comers determined to get a seat in the sanctuary. Excitement grew as they listened to the adult and youth choirs warming up inside. In the social hall last minute adjustments were made to the equipment that would televise the service to the overflow crowd and members of the Special Events Committee led by Marci Muskin busily prepared for the light luncheon and oneg that would follow the service.
Just outside the sanctuary Beth Emeth’s six Torah scrolls lay covered on a table waiting for the moment when they would be held aloft by six former congregation presidents and carried into the sanctuary to be placed inside Beth Emeth’s new ark. The choirs finished, the doors opened, congregants and guests entered briskly looking for just the right seat. In the lobby the presidents received Rabbi Grumbacher’s instructions. Moments later, at exactly 11:00 a.m. a door at the side of the bemah opened, everyone stood, and Beth Emeth’s clergy preceded several honored congregants to their places on the bemah.
Following the siddur created by Rabbi Grumbacher, the congregation read responsively as the service began. “This is the day that God has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it! This is the day we commemorate our ancestors’ re=dedication of the Holy Temple. Desecrated by the Syrian-Greeks, the Maccabees bravely sought to return to the service of the living God. They lit the Eternal flame; they brought light in the midst of darkness. Today in the midst of our freedom we dedicate this sanctuary, we celebrate our own Chanukat Habayit. We kindle the Ner Tamid—the eternal light—symbol of God’s eternal presence.” Then Michelle Engelman was called upon to kindle the light in Beth Emeth’s new ner tamid, which she did, albeit it with the help of an electric switch, unseen by the congregation.“The Torah has been our reservoir of law and lore, the foundation of our beliefs and values. From ages past we have pored over its words to enlighten us, to sustain us and to give us hope. It reflects a glorious tradition that has enabled us to be a light to the nations, if we but live by its truths. We rise as our sifrei Torah are welcomed into their new home.” The rear door opened and a procession of past Congregation presidents moved down the aisle to the bemah—Al Green, Connie Kreshtool, Henry Schenker, Fred Katz, Sue Rohrbacher, and Esther Timmeney—each carrying a Torah to its new home in the holy ark.
As the service moved forward the ancient prayers seemed more meaningful than ever in light of the Chanukah story and the context of Beth Emeth’s dedication of its new spiritual home. Familiar songs and new ones especially composed by Cantor Stanton for the occasion lifted the congregation’s spirits in prayer. “Shehecheyanu / Halleluya!” by Lori Corrsin, gave joyous thanks for reaching this festive occasion. Cantor Stanton’s “Sim Shalom” and “Y’ih’yu L’ratzon” suggested the encompassing spiritual peace that might be found in this new holy sanctuary.
President Richard Goldbaum recognized some special guests: Jack and Jean Blumenfeld, Co-chairs of the Capital Campaign; Henry and Verna Schenker, Honorary Co-chairs of the Campaign; the Campaign Steering Committee; Bob Jacobs, Building Committee chair and members Phil Weinberg and Paul Timmeney; Lynne Ellick, who worked closely on matters of décor; and Dennis Stewart, Music Director at Beth Emeth who designed the congregation’s new organ. He was also pleased to recognize Barbara Shaab, Capital Campaign consultant, Reverend Jonathan Baker of Aldersgate United Methodist Church, who so graciously invited Beth Emeth to use the church during the High Holy Days; and architect Mark Levin, who designed the new sanctuary.
President Goldbaum went on to thank everyone whose contributions to the Capital Campaign had made the construction possible, and he made specific mention of those whose generous pledges are associated with sanctuary dedications: Don and Ethel Parsons, Signa Sher, Glen and Michelle Engelmann, Joseph Labovsky, Dr. Daniel and Susan Kreshtool, Bill and Ellen Wagner, Fred and Mary DeVries, Richard and Judy Goldbaum, Rabbi Peter and Suzy Grumbacher, Joe and Phyllis Lann, Dr. Paul and Karen Melnick, Dr. James and Leslie Newman, Paul and Esther Timmeney, Dr. Martin Wagner, and Dr. Edward and Leslie Goldenberg.
In conclusion, President Goldbaum said, “The victory of the Maccabees gave their generation and future generations hope—and it still resonates deeply within us today. The families of Beth Emeth who built this temple in 1954 made it clear that they cared passionately about the future of Reform Judaism inWilmington. In 2007, our commitment to an active, vibrant Beth Emeth is no less strong. . . . It is a Chanukah gift to our children and theirs.”
On Sunday the school children gathered in the social hall. Again, the Torah scrolls lay covered on a table. This time the table separated the children from their parents. The adults read from a script prepared by Rabbi Sarah Messinger: “Today we dedicate our new sancturary. In many ways this sanctuary is really for you our children. In this sacred space we will study Torah. Are you ready to take on this challenge?” Parents also explained that this is a sacred space that would know rejoicing, prayer, celebrations, life cycle events, music, laughter, and silence. With each description came a question: “Are you ready to take on this partnership? Are you ready to question God and yourself? Are you ready to prepare” for Bar and Bat Mitzvahand confirmation? To each question, the children responded, “Heneni—I am here, we are ready.”
Parents concluded by saying, “As we carry our Torahs in our arms to their new home, we carry you in our hearts. May your hands build for the next generation and your hearts overflow with all that is good and beautiful in this world.” Then everyone moved into the sanctuary and remained standing for the rest of the ceremony. The ark doors were open to receive the sacred scrolls as they were carried in by cadet aides. Cantor Stanton led everyone in the Shehecheyanu. Members of the Board of Directors stood on the bemah before the crowd of children and parents. Rabbi Messinger gestured to the Board members saying they were responsible for the new sanctuary, but they didn’t do it for themselves. She explained to the children that the adults of Beth Emeth were building for them. “This is your bemah.”
As he had at the Shabbat evening service, Rabbi Grumbacher stressed the importance of rededicating ourselves as the Maccabees did. Our ancient enemies included more than the Syrian Greeks, he asserted. Those ancient Jews who were indifferent were also enemies. “But you do care,” said Rabbi Grumbacher addressing the children. “Keep it holy by the lives you live.” Then with his arms extended, Rabbi Grumbacher bestowed the priestly blessing upon the children and their families. Imagine for a moment the vantage point of a child looking up at the outstretched arms of six-foot five-inch Rabbi Grumbacher, hearing his warm voice intone the blessing, while behind him a mosaic Mount Sinai adorns the gigantic ark doors and the wall above the ark, and just above the doors, suspended from the ceiling, hangs a Ner Tamid of three golden orbs whose glowing Hebrew letters mean “truth.”
The ceremony ended with everyone repeating the words to Peter Yarrow’s seasonal hit “Light One Candle.” The chorus so perfectly expressed the thought on everyone’s mind at this moment: “Don’t let the light go out! It’s lasted for so many years! Don’t let the light go out! Let it shine through our love and our tears.”