As part of its ongoing effort to facilitate participation in communal life for all congregants, Rodef Shalom Congregation recently completed a $95,000 renovation of its bima (pulpit), making it handicap accessible.
A semi-circular lower bima, with a 14-inch elevation, was constructed in front of the existing upper bima. A ramp on each side of the lower bima allows those with wheelchairs and walkers, or those who have difficulty navigating steps, to ascend the lower bima, which is connected to the upper bima with a staircase.
The design is fully compliant with the ADA Accessibility Guidelines for Buildings and Facilities.
“The idea of the lower bima came from the inclusion committee, which discerned a need,” said Jeff Herzog, executive director of Rodef Shalom. “We want to be inclusive, and to have the bima accessible to everyone.”
One hundred seats were removed from the 1,200-seat sanctuary to accommodate the new structure.
“It was worth it to us,” Herzog said. “It was asked, ‘Why are you doing this? It’s only a handful of people [that need a handicapped accessible bima].’ Our an swer was, even if it’s only one person, it’s too many.”
The congregation rededicated the bima during a special service, Friday, April 15. Rabbi Richard Address, caring community specialist at the Union for Reform Judaism, served as the guest speaker.
The bima renovation, which began in November 2010, was designed by local architect Alan Dunn, and was funded by the Jean, Lillian and Dr. Henry J. Goldstein Endowment Fund and the Charles M. Morris Charitable Trust .
An added advantage of the new lower bima is that it allows the rabbi and those leading services to be closer to those sitting in the pews, Herzog noted. “The prior bima was like a stage,” he said.
Rabbi Sharyn Henry, rabbinic liaison to Rodef Shalom’s inclusion committee, touted the reformed sanctuary, which brings the rabbis closer to the congregation.
“It has changed the dynamics of the space,” she said. “Before the renovation, the rabbi and the service was far above, and far away. Now, everything is closer in proximity. The people leading the service and the people participating in the service are closer together.”
Shortly after the project was completed, it was put to use at a bat mitzva, Henry said, when both grandmothers were able to easily ascend the bima with their walkers.
“Everyone says that it looks like it has always been there, and it’s beautiful,” said Henry of the new bima. “Even people who were opposed to renovating a room that is 100 years old say it looks like it has always been there.”
(Toby Tabachnick can be reached at email@example.com.)