The centrepiece of the ground floor of the synagogue is a multipurpose gathering area, without fixed seating. This is the space where we hold our religious services for Shabbat, the festivals and special commemorations. For this reason, it is known as ‘the Sanctuary’.
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When you walk through the main doors into the Sanctuary, you will notice directly ahead the Aron Ha-Kodesh, the Holy Ark that adorns the rear southern wall. An array of vertical wooden panels stained in a palette of colours, the Ark makes a bold statement in its rainbow hues about inclusion and diversity. The Aron Ha-kodesh celebrates our rainbow congregation, and all the individuals, with their varying talents and skills, interests and concerns, who, by coming together make congregational life possible. The Ark also proclaims a message of welcome to all those, who wish to journey with us. If you look closely, you will see that in place of the orange stained wooden slats, those on the doors of the Ark are stained in gold, evoking the seven-branched candelabra the M’norah, the original symbol of Jewish life.
If you look above the Ark, you will see a lamp hanging directly above the centre, with a single light. This is the Ner Tamid, the ‘regular light’, which evokes ancient times, when the priests would enter the Temple in Jerusalem, and light the lamps prior to performing the Divine service. Re-gilded, the Ner Tamid is a link with our old synagogue building. Either side of the Ner Tamid, you will see three hanging lamps. Taken together, the six lamps, with the Ner Tamid in the centre, offer another representation of the seven-branched candelabra, the M’norah.
Having looked up, if you look down, you will notice the absence of a Bimah, a platform, usually at least three steps high. In the interests of complete physical and psychological accessibility, and in consultation with the Rabbi, the synagogue Council decided not to include a Bimah in the redeveloped synagogue.
The Holy Ark, the lamps above it, and the absence of a Bimah create an immediate and distinct impression. A more subtle feature of the new Sanctuary may be detected by looking upwards at the East and West walls as they meet the edge of the lower ceiling. Here you will find two mosaics depicting two key moments in the story of the Exodus as related in the Torah. The first of these is a representation of the burning bush that was not consumed by the flames; the location of the encounter of Moses with the ineffable mystery of the Eternal. At the foot of the mosaic, the almost non-consonantal words, Eh’yeh asher Eh’yeh, meaning, ‘I am who I am’ or, ‘I will be who I will be’ (Exodus 3:14).The second mosaic depicts a scene from the beginning of the wilderness wanderings; a representation of the Sea of Reeds dividing to allow the ex-slaves to walk through on dry land. This mosaic, proclaiming the power of the Eternal, is accompanied by the words, Mi chamocha ba-eilim Adonai? ‘Who is like you among the gods, Eternal One?’ (Exodus 15:11). These two mosaics used to hang either side of the Ark in the Sanctuary of the old synagogue. Taken together, and set off centre above eye-level, they invite spiritual reflection and stimulate our questions about the meaning and role of the sacred in our lives and in the life of the congregation.
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