Kol Am dedicates new synagogue

By Victoria Siegel, Special to the Jewish Light

Members of Kol Am saw the dream of having their new building realized last week.

Accompanied by dignitaries, visitors, and invited guests, the proud members of the congregation witnessed the beginning of a new chapter in their 32 year history on Sept. 3. Howard Schwadron, congregation president, summed up the excitement when he spoke to the attendees during the dedication ceremony

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“When we were talking about getting name tags for all the members for today I said we wouldn’t need them because the members would be easily identified by great smiles that said ‘I can’t believe it’s finally happening,” he said.

After a long wait, the congregation now has a permanent home in Chesterfield making it the westernmost synagogue in St. Louis County.

The building was designed to reflect the culture of the congregation.

“Members wanted to maintain a very intimate atmosphere,” Jeff Solomon, architect and past president, said. “To accomplish this goal we developed a sanctuary that is accessible to everyone, both physically and spiritually.”

The warm, hunter-green chairs are arranged in a semi-circle around a reading table that hides another reading table. This second table rolls out to the middle of the sanctuary so everyone can participate. The chairs are not fixed and can be moved. While the sanctuary can accommodate 200 people, no one is more than five rows from the reading table. Also, the bimah is only one step off the floor so as not to create a division between the rabbi and the congregants.

Warm neutral colors of the sanctuary are punctuated by the beauty and brightness of the stained glass windows. These large colorful windows, created by a St. Louis artist, portray the Torah scroll and a tallit weaving together and flowing from one pane to the next. To infuse even more light into the building, a vaulted ceiling of sky lights runs the length of the sanctuary and entry foyer.

The dedication ceremony began much as Kol Am’s history did: moving their Torah from one place to the next. For the past two years, while waiting for the building to be complete, congregants had been holding services at Garden Villas West Retirement Community. Early Sunday morning, the families of Kol Am each carried the Torah one-quarter of a mile in a procession to bring the scroll to its new home. Alyssa Persons, a junior at Parkway North High School, and her family were participants in this special journey. “Today is my mom’s birthday and she asked me to participate,” Persons said. “It was lighter than I thought it would be. When we saw the families walking toward us with the Torah to hand it off, my mom remarked that it felt like Moses leaving Egypt.”

Persons, who recently was confirmed, will be an aide at Kol Am’s Intergenerational Religious School.

Once the Torah reached the entrance of the new building, Rabbi S éverine Haziza-Sokol continued with the scroll into the new sanctuary, heralded by three shofarims from the Sirota family: Rabbi Sarah (Sirota) Hronsky, Matthew Sirota, and David Sirota. “When the Sirota kids were growing up, as each one hit the age for shofar blowing, he or she became the shofarim for our high holidays,” Carol Wolf Solomon, immediate past president and dedication committee member, explained. “They all live out of town and came in just for this dedication.”

After Haziza-Sokol placed the Torah in its new stained glass-covered ark, the ceremony began. Stephanie Crawley, a student at Case Western Reserve who came home for the dedication, sang and played the guitar. Schwadron welcomed the attendees and re-traced the locations the congregation had inhabited during its 32 years: churches, a farmhouse, and the retirement center. St. Louis County Executive, Charlie A. Dooley, acknowledged the rich diversity of the community and presented a proclamation decreeing that the day was officially Congregation Kol Am Day. John Nations, mayor of the City of Chesterfield, also presented a similar proclamation and expressed his happiness with the new synagogue and acknowledged the passion of the people involved in the project. Rabbi Lane Steinger, director, Midwest Regional Council Union for Reform Judaism, expressed congratulations on behalf of URJ and emphasized that by building this synagogue “the link was not broken; the light was not extinguished; and the Jewish soul will remain forever.”

Haziza-Sokol, accompanied by Ron Waxman, made the dedication official when she placed the mezuzah on the sanctuary’s doorpost. Waxman’s daughter Syma, who is an artist, handcrafted and donated the stained glass mezuzah. Following remarks by various congregational leaders, the members hosted an open house and proudly gave tours of their new classrooms, offices, youth lounge, social hall and grounds while enjoying the sounds of a klezmer band. “Our synagogue is a beautiful, inviting place,” Haziza-Sokol said. “It is a reflection of the spirit of our congregation: warm and welcoming.”