December 5, 2003

Tikkun v'Or to Open New Temple

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With architectural outlines complete and more than half of its fundraising goal met, the congregation Tikkun v’Or plans to break ground this summer and erect what will be the first reform synagogue in Ithaca on Triphammer Road.

There is no need to start from scratch to build a community, since a solid congregation has existed for the past 14 years. Prof. Doug Stayman, marketing, calls himself an “almost-founding” member.

“[Since 1991] we have grown not just in members but as part of a growth of Judaism,” he said.

Those 14 years mark the “bar mitzvah” of the congregation. Metaphorically, Stayman said, Tikkun v’Or is finally becoming a member of the Ithaca community.

According to Stayman, the new building is more than just a building. After having held Shabbat, High Holy Day services and other spiritual events in the Unitarian Church and Sunday school at the Greater Ithaca Activities Center, the new synagogue will be valuable and convenient for its members.

“We are not just building a building. We are community-building,” Stayman said.

The campaign for the new place of worship is called “Kehila,” or “community” in Hebrew. The synagogue’s first phase will allow space for everything but Sunday-morning education. Later, the second phase will bring the remaining Hebrew school activities into one location.

Overlooking Cayuga Lake, the temple will “take advantage of the natural beauty but not consume it,” said Robert Libby, the David A. Thomas Professor of Management.

Libby is chair of the building committee, whose goal was to find an architect who uses space efficiently. The architect chosen was Michael Rosenfeld of Massachusetts. Rosenfeld has had experience building around nature and designing synagogues for medium-sized communities in the past.

“He has a concern for sustainability in environmental issues. He uses sustainable materials and fits lots of activities into space efficiently,” Libby said.

The entire synagogue, both phases one and two, should be finished by Passover of 2005.

Tikkun v’Or has used this building process to come together.

“There were a number of people who volunteered,” Stayman said. “The process of galvanizing to do something for the community brought everyone closer together.”

An anonymous donor was also responsible for starting the wheels turning. The donor gave a challenge grant, matching dollar for dollar every donation up to $400,000. Because the proposal was met with such enthusiasm, the synagogue’s goal is now $800,000 instead of $600,000. The money will provide the congregation with more than enough funding to complete phase one.

Once the building is up and running, the 110-member congregation hopes to grow so that it can soon hire a full-time rabbi.

“We had a rabbi, but it’s hard to afford it. We are lucky to still have educated, trained prayer leaders,” Stayman said.

Currently, prayer leaders Mona Sulzman and Abbe Lyons conduct religious services.

“I lead services and I am also a bar [and] bat mitzvah educator. Once a month I lead a service with my guitar,” Lyons said.

Lyons does not know how her role will change once the temple is constructed.

“We have made it clear we would like to continue. I hope that the congregation will grow big enough so that there will be room for plenty of people to get involved,” she continued.

Stayman also mentioned several ways for Cornell students to get involved.

“There are teaching opportunities, student-led youth groups, potluck dinners and of course services,” he said.

For adults there are Torah study groups and book discussions. The congregation is also offering a program in January directed principally toward non-Jews.

“It’s called ‘A Taste of Judaism,’ and it teaches people about Jewish practices and what Judaism is all about,” Stayman said.

Tikkun v’Or does weddings, funerals and bar and bat mitzvahs.

“We are there for happy and sad occasions. That’s why it’s important to have this temple available here,” Libby said.

Tikkun v’Or, despite its lack of a home, has certainly increased the size of the affiliated Jewish community in Ithaca.

“It’s hard because Ithaca is a transient community, so not a lot of people affiliate,” Libby said.

Both Libby and Stayman’s children had their bar mitzvahs at Tikkun v’Or and attended Hebrew classes when the school was established. Today, nearly 70 children are enrolled in pre-K through seventh grade.

Tikkun v’Or’s long-term goal will not just be met by its soon-to-be-built four walls and a roof.

“We want to make sure we’re here for future generations,” Stayman said.

When Libby and Stayman first moved to Ithaca, they had no reform temple to call home.

“We want to see other families have the opportunity for education, worship and social action,” Libby added.

Stayman concluded, “This is our once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to leave a permanent marker of our love for reform Judaism and our hope for the future.”

Archived article by Jessica Liebman