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Congregation Ohev Sholom’s renovations near completion

New carpeting will be installed soon in Congregation Ohev Sholom’s sanctuary, where Rabbi Scott White sits. Rennovations to the sanctuary and the chapel are expected to be completed in early September. Photo by Scott Fishman

It started on Aug. 8, and it’s on track for completion at the end of the second week of September.

It’s the first substantial renovation of Congregation Ohev Sholom’s Rabbi Marshall Miller Sanctuary and Bodker Chapel in the synagogue’s history, Rabbi Scott White said. 

Ohev Sholom is at 5311 W. 75th St. Its sanctuary building was built in 1970. Its school building was built in 1960. The two are connected by a breezeway.

“There has been, on one occasion, replacement of part of the carpeting in the sanctuary,” Rabbi White said. “Otherwise, it’s all original equipment.” 

The renovation is intended to upgrade the features of the sanctuary and chapel in general, and to enable people to sit closer together for a more intimate atmosphere during prayer services, he said.

The renovation includes the removal of most of the sanctuary’s original pews, which provided seating for about 700 people. The number of sanctuary seats will be reduced to about 400. About 120 of those will be moveable chairs.

Some of the original pews will be reinstalled in the rear of the sanctuary and will provide the rest of its seating. They’ll be used for overflow seating during the High Holidays and other special services. 

The chapel’s pews seated about 30. They’ll all be removed and replaced with about 30 moveable chairs, the same type of chairs that are being placed in the sanctuary.

“They’re durable, wooden armchairs — padded and upholstered,” Rabbi White said. “We no longer need the number of seats that were in the original sanctuary. The new design with movable seating will allow us to set up about the same number of seats as the number of people who usually come, mainly to the Saturday service. The addition of freestanding chairs will permit us to arrange the room for smaller groups or larger groups involved in prayer and other activities.”

He envisions that the renovated sanctuary will “facilitate spiritual and cultural events for the congregation and the broader community,” he said.

“That’s my personal aspiration and vision, but that’s not been processed yet by the congregation’s governance,” he said.

Ohev Sholom’s president, Larry Gordon, and his wife have belonged to the congregation since 1972.

“When we joined, during the High Holidays we had to sit on temporary seats against the back wall — that’s how full it was,” he said. “Now we have a lot fewer people for Shabbat services, so the number of empty seats is very noticeable. We also had involvement of the congregation in the selection of the new seating.”

One row of chapel pews was saved, he said, and possibly will be renovated and put downstairs near the synagogue’s entrance, with a memorial plaque. The chapel’s original pews came from the congregation’s previous building, built in 1925, that was in Kansas City, Kansas.

“This would be tying together the past, present, future of our congregation,” he said. “It’s not definite yet. If we do it, it would tie into a mural that was produced in the hallway leading to Asner Hall, that depicts the silhouette of our previous two congregational buildings in Kansas City, Kansas. Slater Sousley, an artist whose family belongs to our congregation, produced it about a year ago.”

New carpeting will be installed throughout the sanctuary building’s upper floor, which includes the chapel, and on the staircase between the upper and lower floors. The sanctuary’s old carpeting was red. The new carpeting is a combination of colors and appears beige from a distance, Rabbi White said.

Ohev Sholom’s Sanctuary Enhancement Committee has been working for more than a year on the renovation plan, Gordon said. Congregant Mike Kolb is the committee’s chairman.

The congregation rents part of its space to a daycare center and a Jewish organization, “but we’re the only religious organization using the building,” he said.

“Through generous donations from Ohev members and friends of the congregation, we have raised through our capital campaign significant funds to allow us to complete all phases of our facility renovations,” Rabbi White said. 

Funds raised in this campaign also paid for the installation of an elevator and renovations to make restrooms and other areas accessible for disabled people. Most of the donations were relatively small, Rabbi White said.

“We’re kind of a democratic congregation,” he said of the congregation, which is comprised of about 150 households. “A number of people gave four figures, but no one gave a huge gift.”

Through Sept. 9, all Shabbat services will be held in the synagogue’s Asner Hall, immediately below the sanctuary.