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Park Slope Synagogue Welcomes New Year with Long-Awaited 'Grand' Staircase

By Leslie Albrecht | September 4, 2013 8:31am
 The Park Slope Jewish Center will finally put its new entrance into use for Rosh Hashanah.
Park Slope Jewish Center New Staircase Finally Complete
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PARK SLOPE — Members of a Park Slope synagogue are saying a joyful "Shana Tovah" — Happy New Year — to a newly renovated front stoop.

Congregants at the Park Slope Jewish Center will arrive for Rosh Hashana services Wednesday evening through a front entrance that they haven't used for at least a decade, said synagogue president Ruth Kaufman.

Mounting concrete steps may not sound like fun, but for PSJC members, the act will mark the end of a patience-testing renovation that started in the fall of 2010. Synagogue leaders had hoped the work would be complete by Rosh Hashana in 2012, Kaufman said, but it wasn't.

In April 2013, the new front steps finally emerged from behind construction site plywood, but they weren't completely ready to use until now.

"Jewish or not, people are really excited to see the front steps," Kaufman said. "We're thrilled, and how fitting that it’s for the new year."

Before repairs on the shul's entrance started, no one had been allowed on the front stairs for at least 10 years because the steep steps were considered a potential safety liability, Kaufman said. The steps were locked behind an iron fence and people entered the synagogue through a humble side door on 14th Street.

The freshly built staircase is the latest upgrade at the synagogue, which has undergone a series of renovations over the last several years. PSJC also made over its sanctuary, restoring stained glass windows and painting a blue sky with puffy white clouds on the ceiling.

Downstairs, renovations on a social hall with classrooms and rental space were completed about a year ago. Since then it's become a "go-to space" for brises and baby namings, said PSJC executive director Casey Baker.

The cost for the latest round of renovations was estimated at $2.15 million in March 2011, but the final price tag isn't yet known because the synagogue is still finalizing details with its contractors, Kaufman said.

The new front steps, described on the synagogue's Facebook page as a "grand staircase," are meant to serve as a welcoming portal between the shul, its members and the surrounding community. "We envision a gracious, safe and welcoming stair and entrance that convey the character of PSJC to one and all," shul leaders wrote in 2010 on the PSJC website.

Baker said the new entrance, which overlooks Eighth Avenue, has already raised the historic synagogue's profile. The plywood construction fence that hid the 1925 shul for years kept some neighborhood newcomers in the dark about what exactly the building was, Baker said.

"People actually know who we are and that we're a synagogue," Baker said. "They're starting to notice us. It's been a really helpful thing."

He added that the more welcoming exterior fits with Park Slope Jewish Center's mission to embrace people of differing backgrounds. The synagogue welcomes interfaith families, runs a monthly group for gay, lesbian and transgender teens, and has a gay female rabbi, Carie Carter.

"We have an old-school building, but it's a modern community," Baker said. "We're very open. We have all different types of folks here."