Building the Future at Eitz Chayim
Eitz Chayim is a wonderful community. We celebrate life’s best moments, mark the holidays throughout each year, mourn the passing of friends and family, learn together about Torah, and educate our children. To support and reflect the special place that we all know Eitz Chayim to be, we need a physical space that does it justice.
In September of 2014, as we welcomed the Jewish New Year 5775, we embarked on a major project and announced the beginning of an ambitious fund raising campaign to expand and improve our sanctuary. We had just completed a community campaign to build an accessible ramp, and we were ready to move on.
On December 13, 2015, we rededicated our Sanctuary.
To accomplish our goals of an accessible, inviting, and functionally-improved sanctuary/Community space, a capital campaign committee was formed and set a goal of $400,000. We began to dream what some thought was “the impossible dream.” Now, having finished the first stage of renovations, we a looking forward to further interior decoration and a more beautiful kitchen.
How to Donate
The preferred way to donate is by sending a check made out to Congregation Eitz Chayim, with “Capital Campaign” on the memo line, to: Attention: Paul Farwell, Congregation Eitz Chayim, 136 Magazine Street, Cambridge, MA 02139. If your name and address are not on your check, please include them so we can acknowledge your gift.
You can donate through Paypal by clicking on the “Donate” button below. Paypal retains 3% of every donation for its fee. Please consider adding 3% to your donation to cover that fee.
It was years in the making, but no one in the crowd at Eitz Chayim on Dec. 13 would deny that our energy, perseverance and treasure were worth the trouble as we reveled in the results.
We didn’t just close out Chanukah with a bang, we sipped champagne and nibbled Hors-d’oeuvres and hugged and congratulated one another for all the efforts that led to this day.
We teared up when Rabbi Stern asked Steve Alexander’s daughter, Nina, to cut the ribbon. We watched the last fingers of light release the day through tiered skylights where once we saw only exposed pipes and putty-colored paint.
We saw our Torah arrive in the new and improved sanctuary by a parade of past presidents, and then basked in the shehecheyanu of being able to see the Torah and the Ark from any vantage point in the room.
There was not a hint of the nostalgia that some may remember when obstructed views disappeared with the old Boston Garden. If anyone misses the concrete pillars that were part of the architectural sensibility of an old concrete block nursing home at 136 Magazine St., let him.
On the last night of Chanukah, as the Boston Globe noted, we were busy celebrating our ability to overwhelm our own sense of limitation. We saw construction chief David Salomon continue to be humble and understated even as he finally accepted some recognition through ovations, a few gifts, and best of all a gorgeous shiny mezuzah that he affixed to its permanent perch at the sanctuary entrance.
We heard inspiring words from Rabbi Stern and then, fortunately, former President Penina Weinberg added an integral yet unplanned thank-you to Rabbi Stern for all she did to nudge us and encourage us and lead us to this day.
We heard kudos from fundraiser extraordinaire Ann Braude for mustering 100 percent financial support for the project, and also let us know that we had exceeded the budget and still have a ways to go before we can call this campaign over.
Then we turned our attention back to what we HAVE done. We raised the roof, as the Cambridge Chronicle noted, let in the light, and triumphed over great odds to create a new spiritual home at the same address of the ugly, labyrinthine space we long endured.
We always told one another that it was the heart and soul of the congregation that mattered. And it does. We will soar with our view of the sky and stay home for the High Holy Days and many future simchot.
If you weren’t able to be with us, we’ll paint you a picture.
Sunday’s re-dedication of our sanctuary – on the last night of the celebration of the re-dedication of the Second Temple – was wonderful. It was heart-warming to see so many people there, including many we’d not seen in a long while.
The entryway was festooned with balloons and a large banner hung overhead proclaiming, “Mazel tov!” Members of the Board handed glasses of champagne to everyone (over 21, of course!) as they arrived. Cards bearing the names of all the donors to our Capital Campaign were attached to ribbons stretching from the front door to the Ark and back again. Interspersed among the names were “price tags” to remind us of the need for additional fundraising for items still on our wish list, e.g. a fully-renovated and accessible kitchen, furniture for the lounge, repainting of hallways, getting rid of the last of that green and white checkered linoleum, and more.
Drew Lowery blew the shofar to gather the masses inside the sanctuary. As people flowed in, the fabulous sound of the EC Trio (Stanley Sagov, Armond Cohen, and John Lockwood) played in the background.
The Rabbi greeted and thanked all those who had contributed in so many ways. She spoke movingly about the late Steve Alexander, whose $25,000 bequest to EC got this show on the road. We were thrilled to have Steve’s daughter, Nina, cut the ribbon.
Following the Rabbi’s remarks, the Torah was paraded back to its home in the Ark by a procession of our illustrious former presidents, Cindy Landau, Stanley Sagov, Adeane Bregman, Penina Weinberg and our current president, Pam Klein.
David Salomon expressed his appreciation of everyone’s contributions, of money and of their time. The Design Team logged countless hours of devoted work during weekly meetings for more than a year. In alphabetical order: Larry Borins (who stepped up to take some of the burden off of David Salomon’s shoulders), David Cane (who is responsible for the soon-to-be-installed remote-control operated shades for the clerestory windows), Bill Donaldson (who jumped into the fray to make some last-minute installations), Lorraine Fine, Eric Grunebaum, Steffie Levinson, Drew Lowery, David Salomon, Gail Trachtenberg (who provided consultation prior to the hiring of Elton Hampton Associates) and Suzanne Watzman. Larry, Steffie and Suzanne also worked closely with Leslie Saul and Associates on color and fabric selection. We are grateful to the entire Design Team for its dedication to our sanctuary’s re-dedication.
To express the Congregation’s appreciation to David, the Rabbi presented him with two gifts: a tree-shaped hanukkiah for him to take home, and a gorgeous tree-shaped mezuzah, which David had the honor of hanging at the entrance to the sanctuary.
The festivities ended with a group sing-along of one of the Rabbi’s wonderful, custom-composed songs following which we all ate delicious cake. Our thanks to Gail Trachtenberg, Pam Klein & Trader Joe’s for providing the refreshments!
It’s clear to all of you who have been following the expansion of the sanctuary that work has slowed to a crawl over the last few weeks. The reason is that when the subcontractor went in to apply for his permit, our proposed design for modification of the smoke detection and fire alarm system was disapproved by the Fire Department. As a result, we cannot obtain Building Department inspection and approval of that wiring and cannot proceed to close in the framed walls and ceiling with plaster.
Therefore, the construction schedule is paused, during which time a fire alarm engineer has been hired to produce a new design that responds to the concerns raised by the Fire Department. These include installation of a modern fire alarm control panel and extended coverage of smoke and carbon monoxide detectors beyond the sanctuary renovation area. As the existing panel and limited fire detection system are about forty years old and do not comply with current codes, the Fire Department’s position is not unreasonable. However, we had hoped to put off facing those improvements for at least another few years. The new drawings are done and the subcontractor expects to pull his permit on Monday. more »
The rabbi asked us what is different about us on this Rosh Hashana than on the last one.
A year ago, I stood at this podium and poured out my heart about the reasons I was committed to Eitz Chayim’s capital campaign for the renovation of our sanctuary. What’s different about me today, is that instead of a crazy visionary trying to convince you that what once seemed impossible was now well within our reach, I am now filled with pride and gratitude for what we have accomplished during the last year.
Not only are we completing our beautiful renovation, but we have raised 3/4th of the money we need to fund it, and in the spare time of our dedicated community of volunteers, we took an important step toward making Eitz Chayim a true Center for Life-long Jewish Learning by inaugurating Kesher at Eitz Chayim, to strengthen the education of our children and support the flourishing of Jewish Life in Cambridge.
To think about what’s different about us today, let me take you back to a year ago. more »
It has been said that the building of the accessible ramp at Eitz Chayim was a turning point in our community. In her remarks before the Congregation on Rosh Hashanah in 2015, Ann Braude, Co-Chair of the sanctuary fund raising campaign, commented that the idea of renovating the sanctuary “began to crystallize when we pulled ourselves together to build a ramp to make our building accessible. An idea we had talked about for years suddenly became real after then-President Penina Weinberg saw a concrete need, and member David Eisen found a partner for the project in a Northeastern student group, Freedom by Design.”
With Penina’s encouragement, David Eisen, a member and a professional architect, had been working on his own in 2011 to sketch out plans for a ramp, but it was not until he engaged the participation of Freedom by Design, a group of architecture students at Northeastern University, that the project took off. In a blog post on the Northeastern website, the students reported that the “project began in early February 2012 as a conversation between Chelsea Brown, a fifth year architecture student, and then Team Captain of AIAS FBD, her co-op employer David Eisen of Abacus Architects + Planners and member of Congregation Eitz Chayim. Since then, the project has moved quickly, from a feasibility study [EC Accessibility Feasibility Study with 4 options!] to design and constructions drawings, through permitting and a rapid construction all in just under 8 months!”
The work of the FBD students was indeed impressive and inspiring, as was the dedication of both David Eisen and David Salomon, chair of our Building Committee, to designing and planning the work at Eitz Chayim. For FBD’s wonderful slide show of the construction, click here.
Just as inspiring as the planning was the way in which the Eitz Chayim community leapt to the challenge of raising over $10,000 to build the ramp. Rabbi Stern was tireless in encouraging the community to contribute, and all of us were inspired by member Steve Alexander, whose mobility was impaired due to Parkinson’s disease. To quote Ann again: “Our celebration of the ramp’s completion was bittersweet, because our beloved member, Steve Alexander, whose decreasing mobility awoke us to the need for the ramp, did not live to use it.” In fact the ramp was not formally dedicated until after his passing. For Hugh Joesph’s videos of the ramp dedication on November 4, 2012, click here.
The FBD students were so enthusiastic that they returned the following year to help us paint and finish the ramp. Their description of this visit is on their second blog post.
The completion of the ramp was signal that our community was growing up and ready to take on the next challenge – renovating the sanctuary.
Well, here we are again.
Last year in this same spot I spoke about the need to move Eitz Chayim into the future; to not stand still, and to open the doors wide to all who desired to enter for prayer, learning, and community. Ann Braude and I, as co-chairs of the then nascent fund raising campaign, spoke of our dream to renew the sanctuary and establish a center for lifelong Jewish learning at Eitz Chayim.
Today, we are back to make a progress report and to let you know that while the congregation has made great strides towards those goals; the task is not yet complete. Ann will talk about raising money, and I will talk about spending it. However, lest you think that this is all about cash, I need to remind all of us that this communal effort is not so much about “if you build it they will come” than it is about “if they come, you can build it”. This is about open doors and wider doors. I am so thankful to be part of this community that has risen above its doubts and has participated 100% both in treasure and sweat to ensure that Eitz Chayim will be here for generations of students and seekers.
So you may ask, where did the money go? more »
We are now gearing up for our capital campaign so we are re-posting this d’var torah from Yom Kippur.
I am honored to have the chance to give a d’var torah on this most momentous day in the Jewish year. The rabbi asked me if the d’var could provide an opportunity for me to speak with the congregation about our community’s Capital Campaign. I said of course. I’m a teacher. I can speak on any text. No problem.
Then I read the parsha. This parsha for me is one of the most terrifying and inscrutable in the torah. In a dependent clause, without comment or ceremony, Aaron experiences the disaster that Abraham avoided, the death of his two sons. Instead of receiving comfort, Aaron is commanded to make expiation, first for the sins of his family and then for the sins of the community with gory animal sacrifice.
How on earth could I use this text to inspire the congregation to join me and other members who have committed to the goal of Building Sanctuary at Eitz Chayim? But the truth is, the reason I value the torah is that it does not shy away from difficulty, and there is always something there beyond what I have been able to understand. This rich and difficult text embodies so many contradictory possibilities of human existence. It binds pain, tragedy, self-‐examination, forgiveness, community, metaphor, blood, gore and transcendence into a single narrative.
I’d like to take the difficulty of this story as my point of departure for talking about why I have decided to join with other members of our congregation who have committed to our communal future by initiating a capital campaign for the renovation and renewal of our sanctuary. more »