The Secular Becomes Sacred

The Secular Becomes Sacred

It has been the setting for art exhibitions and military stagings.

It is cavernous and utilitarian.But on short notice, for the Ten Days of Repentance, the Seventh Regiment Armory on the Upper East Side was turned into a house of worship.

Within days of the late-August fire that gutted Central Synagogue, New York City’s oldest Reform Congregation, Gov. George Pataki granted permission for religious activities to be held in the Armory, a half-mile away, on Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur.

Then the work began.

Robert Isabell, an acclaimed party and floral designer, set out to create a sacred feeling in the secular space: he had less than a day, from the end of an antiques show till sundown on yom tov. His workers and volunteers from the temple pitched in. Up went mulberry-colored fabric around the perimeter. The temple’s bima, damaged from the fire, was placed at the front of the room. On it, a makeshift ark. Behind it, a towering backdrop painted to resemble the actual sanctuary’s Moorish interior.

Some 3,000 seats were arranged in rows, enough to accommodate (for the first time in several years) all the congregation’s High Holy Days worshipers at the same time. On each seat, a machzor.

The congregation returns to its Community House, across the street from the burned-out building, for Sukkot this week and subsequent services.

Repairs on the main sanctuary will last about two years.

And High Holy Days services next year?

"Were looking into all possibilities," says Rabbi Peter Rubinstein.

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