Temple Emanu-El has been a landmark in Dallas since its founding in 1875, but its Northwest Highway and Hillcrest Avenue location has been even more in the spotlight since it emerged in 1957.
Even with its mid-century modern design and large spaces for worship, the congregation of more than 2,500 families still needed more room.
“Our congregation is one of the largest [Reform Jewish communities] in the country — certainly west of the Mississippi,” Temple president Scott McCartney said.
Studying the spatial needs of the community began eight years ago through focus groups with a small number of families. Once a project was drawn up with a target cost, the temple began its simultaneous architectural and fundraising tracks. A groundbreaking was finally held on May 5, 2014 with Mayor Mike Rawlings in attendance. It also honored Rabbi David Stern’s 25th anniversary with the temple.
Construction, about a 19-month process, is basically broken up into three parts: worship, education, and community/administrative areas.
A new, 450-seat chapel — to be named for Rabbi Stern — will be built, and Olan Sanctuary will receive acoustic updates as well. Lefkowitz Chapel is also getting a makeover. It will include one glass wall so the Hillcrest-facing garden can be easily seen from multiple viewpoints.
“The garden will be the center of the campus,” McCartney said of all the renovations to worship spaces. “We want to bring nature into worship.”
Over on the administrative side, a second floor is being added to house new offices and a youth wing, and Linz Hall will be converted into a community space with a coffee-and-couches kind of space to encourage fellowship.
“It will be a focal point,” McCartney said.
As for the temple’s early-childhood and religious schools, the education building will receive a new wing, complete with beams at the entrance marked with children’s signatures.
“Thirty percent of our students [in the early-childhood school] are not Jewish, so there’s a long waiting list,” McCartney said. “It will be a fantastic, new, modern space.”
Board members were able to get a walk-through sneak peek in mid-March.
“Being a kid that was raised there, it has an extra emotional punch,” lifelong member and board member Barbara Einsohn said. “One of the first things I was looking for was something that would remind me of the old space … the designers and architects are being extremely mindful of the past.”
Einsohn admits to getting “kinda teary” to see how longstanding spaces are being repurposed and rededicated to the temple’s new overall campus.
“There’s a sense of warmth and family,” she said.
As for timeline, the community spaces and education wings are slated to finish out over the course of the summer, so they are ready to go for the new school year. The sanctuary upgrades will be the last phase to be completed.
“There’s a real thread of an emotional tie to all the celebrations and life’s passages there,” Einsohn said. “I still sit in the same section my parents sat us in.”