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Rendering of Renovated Shaarey Zedek Synagogue enlarged dining hall with Bima and Aaron Hakodesh in background.
Number TEN Architectural Group

Rendering of Renovated Shaarey Zedek Sanctuary with moveable padded seats
Number TEN Architectural Group

Pew Seating currently at Shaarey Zedek synagogue facing bima


by Rhonda Spivak, Oct 25,2021


The Town Hall meeting at Shaarey Zedek Synagogue on Oct 13 was a lively event  where synagogue members gave their opinions and offered feedback about the proposed renovations and upcoming capital campaign. About 40 people attended the event in person, while another approx 100 units joined online via zoom. (Note: The synagogue currently has 772 membership units )
The proposed renovations are projected  to cost  $14 million dollars, and it is possible they could be upwards of that amount. It will cost about $3 million to fix/replace the building’s mechanical/electrical systems, replace the roof, remove asbestos from the ceiling, and take out vinyl flooring, etc. This is projected to be a 6-7 month process which the contractors Akman Construction hope to begin in early spring 2022. Then they hope to begin the planned extensive renovations in the fall of 2022.  (It should be noted that if the project were to be delayed for whatever reason, the costs will only go up.)
Bob Freedman, the fundraiser who has been hired for this project told the crowd that 6 million has been raise so far, with an additional 3 million likely to be confirmed shortly.
The architectural/interior design  team  (from Number TEN Architectural Group) presented renderings at the meeting that were dated from Sept 2018, and said  nothing presented was etched in stone, and  that there was a long road ahead to reach final renderings. The team spoke of bringing in more light to the building especially with more windows on the river side, with a balcony facing the river or  the idea of a solarium facing the river.  The renderings also showed raised wooden ceilings throughout the upper floor of the building.
One thing is clear already, which is that there is a division of opinion among members about keeping the pew seating in the sanctuary or changing it to moveable padded seating. If the seating were moveable, then if someone wanted to have a large social gathering the social hall could be extended into the sanctuary space to accommodate this.  Moveable seating allows for flexibility and offers opportunities for joint use between the event space and sanctuary. If seating is moveable then the whole upper floor aside from the bimah could be used as a banquet facility. Those who spoke in favour of keeping the pew seating talked about continuance with tradition. Some have memories of little children climbing over the pews to visit family members, and say that the pews build community.  Some like having their assigned seat in the pews. Others may want the bimah to remain, although in many of the rendering options the bimah was changed, with it being in the middle of curved theatre style seating.
One member spoke of how the plans were beautiful but not "holy" or "spiritual."  Aside from the "Aron Hakodesh being present", the design presented "could look like it was anywhere" (i.e. at any banquet facility) and not a synagogue. But other members expressed approval of the plans, with some indicating the plans were an investment in the future, and would mean that people in the Jewish community would want to have their life cycle events at the synagogue. 
The  congregation will have to grapple with the question of what to do with the pew seating-whether to remove it or not-but there will be lots of time to decide this issue.
There was also discussion about the rendering of a coffee bar for the downstairs space of the synagogue, with some members objecting to this idea. One said “This isn’t a Starbucks.” Other members, however, appeared to liked the plan. 
Architecht Lloyd Secter spoke at the meeting about how he and his son Dov had done a proposal incorporating a large extension to the lower level of the building , which included a studio for the Rabbi or Rabbis. The extension could be a three or four season one, but Secter pointed out these ideas had not at all been reflected in the renderings presented. Neil Duboff, Chair of the Capital Campaign assured Secter that his and Dov’s  ideas were “on the table, ” and would be considered.
Secter became emotional at the meeting saying that every effort should be made to bring Rabbi Matthew Leibl back to the synagogue. 
On a different note, one board member, Dr Ted Lyons indicated that it might be a good idea to put a daycare downstairs in the building, as the building would be in use more. A daycare was not in the renderings shown by the Number TEN Architectural Group. When asked about the idea of a daycare, Freedman said this could potentially be done in partnership with the Rady JCC, as they have a long list of people wanting daycare. Freedman estimated that the synagogue could have a daycare with 30-40 spots for toddlers. However, the synagogue would need to get the approval from the province for those spots and it could take a long time to get approval, potentially delaying the renovations to the building. There are also specifications of what is needed for a daycare, including an outdoor play area, which would need to be fenced off. 
Lyons also mentioned the need for the synagogue to market itself to the Jewish community and also to market its facility to the non-Jewish community  ( i.e. for business lunches or banquets in the social hall.) Lyons stated “Many non-Jewish groups would love to use this space.” This may mean that the synagogue in the future would have to hire a fundraiser who could raise donations as well as market the synagogue’s space/banquet facilities to the non-Jewish community. Of course, funerals would also be held at the synagogue, and if the upstairs had been booked for a business lunch, for example, the funeral would have to take place before or after the luncheon. 

In addition to the discussion about the renovation plans, there was discussion at the meeting about a future business model to sustain the synagogue. The traditional model of synagogue membership dues and purchase of high holiday seats may no longer be feasible, such that the synagogue may need to move to a model of  more pro-active fundraising for donations,  and marketing of  its facilities.  Freedman noted in his remarks that  26% of the donations the synagogue received for its recent high holiday services were from non-members, showing that  non-members can be stakeholders’ in the synagogue’s future and the synagogue may well be able to attract more donations from non-members than it previously thought was possible. 

One active member of the congregation came out strongly against proceeding with the renovation (aside from fixing the mechanical systems and roof). He noted that Conservative Judaism is on a downward trend and said “we’re putting the cart before the horse. Before we spend $14 million , we need a business plan first.” He emphasized, “We need a business plan that says this can work.” He expressed doubts as to whether the congregation would be able to keep up and properly maintain the upkeep of the extensively renovated building in the future. 
Duboff answered him candidly, saying "The risk is that 25 years from now we can’t afford the upkeep of the building and the building is sold.” Duboff  stressed that despite this risk, there was no choice but to move forward with this ambitious renovation at this stage.  "If we build it, hopefully they will come. They may not come, but we have to try.”
Duboff also pointed out that the synagogue had some $9 million in funds available to it now and if they didn’t proceed with the renovations now, “our potential donors will lose interest.” He said he didn’t believe that the money from donors would necessarily be there in a year or two if the synagogue missed this opportunity to raise the money and proceed now.
Freedman told the Winnipeg Jewish Review that there will be some two years to develop a business plan, which is more than ample enough time for the synagogue to set itself on solid financial footing. Delays in proceeding with the renovation plan will only result in the renovation costing more, he emphasized.
Freedman also noted that he would like to see the kitchen expanded "to expand the catering facilities."
On the chat function on zoom , the issues were lively debated . One member said on the chat that for $ 14 million it would be possible to build a completely new building. Freedman told the Winnipeg Jewish Review that that was simply not correct.
Board member Anita Neville indicated that in her view the whole issue of security has to be built into the synagogue’s plans. “We are living in a different time,” she said, suggesting that the “balcony is a concern” when it comes to security, for example. Freedman responded by saying that the Federal government has doubled the amount of money available to vulnerable communities.
Freedman noted that the estimate of $14 could move up, but if it did substantially then it would be time to “sharpen our pencils” and make changes, for example,  to some of the finishings, to bring the costs in line.
Freedman told the Winnipeg Jewish Review that he was not at all surprised that not everybody was in agreement about all aspects of  the proposed plans. It is to be expected that people will have differing views on various aspects of the renovations. "Years ago when we went to build the campus, not everyone was in agreement that it should be done” but, he said, the community went ahead and built it and has never looked back since."
Although  the Rabbi Berkal Chapel of the synagogue was not in the renderings, the intent is to have it remain.
One topic that  did not come up at all at the meeting was any notion of any potential merger with Etz Chayim Synagogue.
While the synagogue is undergoing renovations, the Congregation is expected to move to  a temporary location , which is the Masonic Centre at Confusion Corner.
The members of the Capital Campaign Committee, who will be fundraising for the project, are as follows:
Neil Duboff- Chair
Gail Asper OC OM LLD
Brenlee Carrington Trepel
Dr Michael Helper
Ivy Kopstein
Jessica Kraut
Uri Kraut
Peter Leipsic
Dr Edward Lyons OC
Charles Shore
Dafna Shore
Brent Trepel
Larry Vickar
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Rhonda Spivak, Editor

Publisher: Spivak's Jewish Review Ltd.

Opinions expressed in letters to the editor or articles by contributing writers are not necessarily endorsed by Winnipeg Jewish Review.