SoHo Synagogue Seeks to Draw a Hip Crowd
By Serena Solomon
SOHO — It could be New York's hippest place of worship.
The SoHo Synagogue, located in a defunct Gucci store at 43 Crosby St., between Spring and Broome streets, looks as much like a funky nightclub as it does a traditional temple.
"The concept here is to redefine the synagogue experience for a new generation," said 33-year-old Rabbi Dovi Scheiner, who was ordained in 1999.
The SoHo Synagogue kicked off its new location with a fundraiser party "Opening Night in White," on Sunday night at Capitale on Bowery, followed by a walk to the synagogue where members of the congregation performed.
"It demonstrated on opening night that this is a space that has a community. It demonstrated the demand that was there from the get-go for what we have created," Scheiner said.
Services begin this coming Friday, capping off a decade long-dream for Scheiner and his wife Esty, 30, who sought out a location designed to reflect their congregation's non-traditional goal.
The building's aesthetics are intended to be a key to drawing young people back to the Jewish faith.
The design of the synagogue came from award winning architect Dror Benshetrit, who is part of the SoHo Synagogue community.
Lined with vertical stripes, the glass façade is reminiscent of the tallith strings that hang from the waists of Jewish men. The ceiling's design is an abstract menorah.
The space has differed greatly from the original renderings, with a drastic last-minute change Scheiner refers to as a miracle. The sanctuary now incorporates the basement, with the foyer opening up to a huge space with a 20-foot ceiling.
"What we ended up with is something that feels like a synagogue," Scheiner said.
Another "miracle" was the cost of the million-dollar project, which Scheiner estimates is a fraction of what the bill should have been.
"Lawyers worked on it. Architects, designers, the contractor either worked at cost or free," he said, adding that many who helped were part of the SoHo Synagogue community.
For Scheiner and his wife, their calling to downtown Manhattan was profound. They were married on September 11, 2001.
"In very simple terms it was traumatic," said Scheiner. "Our therapy was moving downtown and being in that community."
In the process he recognized that reaching the young, secular, unaffiliated Manhattan Jew was a completely different challenge, but his approach was simple.
"We listened," Scheiner said. "We learned about peoples' lifestyles, priorities, interests."
And SoHo Synagogue and its revolutionary new space is the result.
"This is a sanctuary," Scheiner said. "Hopefully it will be a sanctuary for young Jewish people at the end of a rat-race week."