A symbolic trek along state Route 224 from the old synagogue to a new one with two Torah scrolls at the head of the procession marked the "soft opening" of Park City's newest worship center Friday night.
The area's Jewish community has grown substantially during the past decade, and the new synagogue hosted its first Shabbat service there following the "Torah trek." For Jews, the Sabbath begins at sundown on Friday and ends at sundown Saturday.
Rabbi Joshua Aaronson said the two religious scrolls a new one recently purchased by the congregation and a 200-year-old scroll saved from Eastern Europe during the Holocaust will be housed in what is called the "ark," which was dedicated during Friday's ceremonies. Both scrolls will be used in a long string of bar mitzvah (for males) and bat mitzvah (for females) ceremonies scheduled at the new synagogue in the coming months. The first will take place today.
The trek is an honored tradition, allowing congregants to "revel in a job well done," the rabbi said.
Anticipation for the event and more particularly for the "bigger than Ben Hur blowout" dedication scheduled June 27 has been growing among members of the congregation ever since the groundbreaking in 2006. At this point, the 30,000-square-foot building is only about 85 percent complete, the rabbi said.
Offices for Temple Har Shalom are located in the new building, and other functions will move there gradually before the dedication in June. Designed by world-renowned architect Alfred Jacoby, the building already has received "massive kudos everyone loves it, and we're very pleased with that," Rabbi Aaronson said.
The sanctuary awaits installation of its pews and other furniture, as well as large stained-glass windows, which the rabbi said are the synagogue's best feature. The windows are being created by Jun Kaneko from Omaha, Neb., known as a world-class artist whose installations can be found in buildings worldwide, including the Salt Palace.
"It's a unique piece of architecture. It doesn't look like a ski lodge, but it fits in Park City."
Once complete, the rabbi envisions it as a community gathering place. "We'll be hosting things that will draw the entire community. We hope to meet lots and lots of people who come in and find some solitude or what-
ever they're looking for."
The building already has served as storage space for the Sundance Film Festival, and Rabbi Aaronson said he anticipates there will be cooperative arrangements with festival organizers "on a 12-month basis, and during that week as well." Some of the festival's public events already are scheduled there for 2009, he said.
"We endorse what they do, but we will have no control over what is shown. We neither support nor oppose anything, so we're neutral on anything they show. Our entire community strongly supports the idea of this partnership. We adore Sundance and think Utah is very lucky to have them."
The new synagogue also has drawn a number of new families to worship there, he said. "Lots of Jewish families are not going to move to a location that can't provide for a bat or bar mitzvah for their son or daughter."
The rabbi declined to discuss the cost of the building and said it won't ever be made public, but he did say they haven't yet completed the fundraising."We welcome every single human being into our midst," he said. "We see ourselves not only as leaders in the Jewish community, but in the Utah community as well. This building provides a very usable platform for us to jump off and do greater things."