On a typical Friday night, there are some empty seats in the sanctuary of Temple Emanu-El, Manhattan’s prestigious Reform congregation. Several hundred worshippers come usually.
On a typical Friday-night service during Chanukah, the numbers go up. To about a thousand. Last Friday night was standing room only.
A capacity crowd of more than 2,000 adults and children gathered in Temple Emanu-El, New York City’s largest Jewish house of worship, for the first night of Chanukah. The Friday-night services for the holiday, which celebrates the rededication of the Temple in ancient Jerusalem, marked the formal rededication of Temple Emanu-El, following a two-year, $25 million renovation.
Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Governor-elect Eliot Spitzer — “very loyal and dedicated members of the synagogue,” says Rabbi David Posner, the congregation’s senior spiritual leader — led the lighting of the menorah’s first candle, accompanied by 150 children on the bima.
“Everyone joined together,” says Rabbi Posner, who wrote a rededication prayer for the occasion. “It was one of the happiest nights in the history of the congregation.”
“It’s a wonderful day for New York,” said the mayor.
The renovation of the sanctuary and the Beth-El Chapel wiped away 75 years of accumulated soot and water damage, involving miles of scaffolding and Akoustalith tiles. The building looks “even better” than it did when built in the 1920s, the rabbi says, “because the lighting was greatly enhanced.”
A photo exhibit about the temple’s refurbished architecture opened there this week.
Next year, Rabbi Posner says, Temple Emanu-El may sponsor another special event to fill the sanctuary, like last week. “It’s a nice precedent,” he says. “We should always look do something special on Shabbos Chanukah.”