The members of Ahavath Achim in Carnegie have known for years that their synagogue was not handicapped accessible, but the cost of adapting the 75-year-old building made them cringe.
One estimate to install an elevator came to $60,000 — a steep sum for the congregation of 100 members, mostly retirees on fixed incomes.
Yet when one of their most prominent members, 85-year-old Izzy Horowitz, a member of the board and commander of the South Hills Post of the Jewish War Veterans, fell and found himself confined to a wheelchair, the members knew they had to do something.
Indeed, other members, because they could not access the synagogue, began attending services at Beth El or Beth Hamedrash Hagodol-Beth Jacob, both of which are handicapped accessible.
“We said, ‘this is not right,’ ” said Richard D’Loss, vice president of Ahavath Achim, also known as The Carnegie Shul. “We wanted to accommodate them, but we were procrastinating because of the expense.”
Enter Independent Mobility, a Lawrenceville-based contractor the congregation hired to install a chairlift from the sanctuary level of the synagogue to the social hall below.
Cost to the congregation: $11,500.
But D’Loss said it was worth it.
“We were very fortunate that some members of the congregation pitched in a significant part of that [cost],” he said.
While installing the chairlift took just a couple days to complete, designing it took much longer and negotiated a couple twists and turns.
Since the stairwell has two landings, the track would have to make three turns to deliver its rider upstairs or downstairs.
To produce the lift, the contractor laid out colored tape along the stairway, took digital photos of the space, and developed a computer-generated design based on the images.
From that, the parts were made at a manufacturer in the Midwest.
“It’s fascinating actually,” D’Loss said of the process.
The chairlift may not be the last handicapped upgrade to the building, D’Loss said. Accessing the ornate, railing-enclosed bima remains a problem.
“That may be a little more complicated,” he said given the space available there. “We’ll probably be looking at that next. For now, we’re happy people can get into the building.”
(Lee Chottiner can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)