Congregation Beit Simchat Torah

Within a landmark Cass Gilbert-designed warehouse in New York City is a new home for Congregation Beit Simchat Torah (CBST), the world’s largest LGBTQ Jewish congregation and a progressive voice in Judaism. CBST welcomes all with warmth and openness.

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entrance to a full CBST at the base of a landmarked building illuminated at night

The new synagogue embodies the community’s core values through an architecture of accessibility, transparency, and warmth. Working within the constraints of the building’s existing column grid, we created spaces for worship, community life, and social justice activism.

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curved ceiling over a seating area in a wide open lobby

The first floor includes a soaring 16-foot-high multipurpose lobby, administrative offices, and a luminous sanctuary. The south sanctuary wall is canted to admit daylight, which animates its ribbed concrete surface with a constantly changing play of light and shadow. Set within this wall is the Ark which is screened by a sliding panel made of bent oak boards, relating to the rhythm of the concrete. The sanctuary adapts easily from a sacred space to a hall for life-cycle events.

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man stands in the CBST sanctuary before the open Ark, illuminated by a skylight above
The wall’s mass, slope of the surface, and texture improve acoustics.
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two women look upon Ark set into a canted and ribbed concrete wall
Sanctuary and eternal flame, ner tamid, nested within a structural column.
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the Ark behing a structural column and below a skylight, open to second layer

The ark, which houses the torahs, has three layers: an outer screen of steam-bent oak staves, an inner door covered with a tapestry woven from jute, aluminum and brass wire and a curtain, parochet, made from custom laser-cut fabric with an inner layer of a gold sheer fabric. The parochet pattern refers to a frieze in the 14th Century Synagogue of El Transito in Toledo, Spain.

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Ark detail of laser cut parochet in maroon and gold fabric
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a congregation in the sanctuary with the Ark open
Custom curved oak pews are stackable, enabling flexibility for life-cycle events.

A gracious stair descends to a lower common area wrapped by classrooms, a chapel/library, support spaces, and a small kitchen.

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people gather on wide staircase in the CBST lower level
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lower level staircase and open elevator wrapped in red

The wood-paneled chapel/library accommodates groups of up to 70 people and includes a place for study and teaching.

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steamed oak in the chapel / library
Wreathed in steam-bent wood, the chapel accommodates up to seventy people and doubles as a library.
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sinks and stalls in gender neutral bathroom
The all-gender restroom obtained by a special ordinance from the NYC Department of Buildings.
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  • kippot, or a storage box carved into wall
    Kippot (yarmulke) holder.
  • wooden table before the textured concrete sanctuary wall
    Sanctuary detail.
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feet ascend terrazzo stairs inlaid with Walt Whitman quote that reads
Walt Whitman quotes are engraved in terrazzo steps.

The synagogue supports CBST’s emphasis on social responsibility by prioritizing environmental sustainability. It is also the only certified LEED Gold urban synagogue.

 

Read more about CBST in Stephen Cassell’s essay for Faith & Form.