When Congregation Beth Tefillah was founded in 2010, the fledgling Orthodox synagogue consisted of just a few families and Rabbi Pinchas Allouche.
“We started in my garage and from there it grew from one suite to two suites to now where we are five suites,” Allouche said. “It’s almost like a successful startup’s story.”
Eight years on, the synagogue has hundreds of member families and is entering the final phases of construction on its new home, an approximately 15,000-square-foot building on Shea Boulevard east of 64th Street.
The new facility will include a sanctuary capable of seating more than 240 people, a banquet hall connected to a shaded courtyard, a commercial kosher kitchen, children’s rooms, a playground, a study/library, a mikvah and even a meditation garden.
“We’ve grown exponentially since our birth,” Allouche explained. “We needed to consolidate this tremendous growth and create these headquarters so that our vision can spread in a more organized and effective way. That’s the idea behind the building.”
While the synagogue had been considering finding a permanent home for some time, the project really began progressing when a man named Bill Smith got involved.
“He had never attended services in his life and he’d never had any connection to the Jewish religion in his life,” said Valerie Borden, an interior designer and member of the synagogue. “A friend introduced him to Rabbi Allouche and it really touched Bill and it changed his life.”
A real estate developer from Chicago who split time between that city and the Valley, Smith spearheaded the synagogue’s project, helping with the property search and bringing on Adam Berkelhamer, an architect Smith had worked with previously.
Though Smith spent time working with Berkelhamer on the design and lining up contractors, he died during the project’s initial phases.
Bruce Goldman, the chair of the synagogue’s building committee, was a friend of Smith’s and remembers how Allouche helped Smith experience a “Jewish enlightenment.” The passion Allouche inspired in Smith was translated directly into Smith’s enthusiasm and effort in getting the synagogue a new building.
“He was an award-winning builder in Chicago and he was looking at this to be his most important project,” Goldman said. “He really felt that way about it.”
Though the designs necessarily evolved as construction began, Goldman said they tried to maintain many of the features Smith had included.
“We had to start from scratch almost and find a new contractor and hire a whole new team, because his team was off the project once he passed away,” Goldman explained.
The team behind the project took great pains to ensure that the building integrated Jewish values into its construction as well as the final product. This included making sure the area of the roof used to collect rainwater for the mikvah was free of any air conditioners or other obstructions, which Borden explained was required by Jewish law.
Further, no work is allowed at the building during Shabbat. On a Thursday morning as Borden walked the property, several workers and contractors asked about obtaining exceptions for this rule for the coming weekend. They were all answered with a polite yet firm no.
Building materials have been sourced from Israel whenever possible, and the sanctuary chairs were bought from Israeli company Lavi Furniture. The chairs have already arrived and a group of Israeli workers are scheduled to travel to the Valley to help with the installation in August.
The building includes uniquely Jewish amenities as well, such as three dedicated ceremonial hand-washing stations and a commercial kosher kitchen with separate rooms for meat and dairy.
The building’s cornerstone was dedicated to three Israeli yeshiva students who were kidnapped and killed in the summer of 2014. Racheli Fraenkel, mother to one of the victims, visited the synagogue a few years ago, and the congregation hopes Fraenkel will be able to appear at the synagogue’s opening ceremonies. Allouche said he also expects Gov. Doug Ducey and officials from Israel to attend the ceremony as well.
Perhaps the most important aspect of the project is the spirit of community collaboration that made it possible, from a handful of large donations that helped jumpstart the project early on to the donation of in-kind goods and services from other community members throughout the construction.
This ideal of community participation and unity is represented in a series of handcarved wooden panels flanking the synagogue’s ark. Each of the 12 panels depicts a different tribe of Israel’s Hebrew name and an image representing an aspect of the tribe’s history.
“Beth Tefillah, the name we chose for the synagogue, comes from a verse in Isaiah that says, ‘My house shall be a house of prayer for all nations,’” Allouche said. “We want to include as many people as possible, all of the tribes
together, and therefore I wanted that to be clearly displayed in the holiest place of our building.
“It speaks to this beautiful idea of unity and the idea of harmony. I don’t have to compromise myself to unite with you — quite the opposite. I have to be myself to harmonize with you. It’s like instruments in a symphony or colors in a rainbow.”
Though the building will not be completed in time for the High Holidays, it is expected to open in the fall, with the first bar mitzvah already scheduled for early October. JN