Sacred Space

slide-newsletterWhen moving from our original to our present building in 2004, TBH members agreed that it was important to maintain the intimate feeling of praying in the old, smaller shul. This desire led to careful redesign of space in the new sanctuary. The low bimah (platform), wooden floor, and movable seating in the front area create an intimate, acoustically resonant and highly participatory context for regular services. At the same time, the Sanctuary has the ability to accommodate large groups and to serve as a place for more formal and decorous services, as


The design of the
bimah intentionally highlights the value of accessibility. In addition to the ramp in the front, which provides physical accessibility, the bimah is low to the ground and open on all sides so that one can ascend the bimah, and approach the Ark, from any direction. Thus the Torah is accessible to all, and hierarchy is limited.on the High Holidays. In this way, the sanctuary flexibly fulfills our congregation’s needs for sacred space.

Tradition holds that one faces Jerusalem and the site of the ancient Temple during prayer, and synagogues in North America have therefore been oriented towards the east to facilitate this. The TBH sanctuary is oriented toward the south, as our building was not originally built as a Jewish house of worship. However, TBH maintains the minhag of praying towards Jerusalem. With the strong TBH emphasis on community—which also reflects the Reconstructionist emphasis on Jewish peoplehood—orientation towards a particular point in space conceptually leads to all Jews praying together, in unity, as one congregation. And since Jews face a different direction based on where they are in the world, that “one congregation” ultimately faces each other.

As a testament to our values, the sanctuary is adorned with three biblical verses:

Eastern Wall: “From east to west the name of God is praised.” –Psalm 113:3

Tradition holds that during prayer one faces Jerusalem and the site of the ancient Temple, and synagogues in North America are therefore usually oriented towards the east. The TBH sanctuary is oriented toward the south, as our building was not originally built as a Jewish house of worship. However, TBH maintains the custom of praying towards Jerusalem. With the strong TBH emphasis on community, orientation towards a particular point in space conceptually leads to all Jews praying together, in unity, as one congregation. And since Jews face a different direction based on where they are in the world, that “one congregation” ultimately faces each other. The verse adorning the eastern wall is traditionally associated with a Mizrach (“east”), a marker of the eastern wall in Jewish homes and communal spaces.

Western Wall: “Let the mountains produce peace for the people, the hills the reward of justice.” –

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Psalm 72:3

While we face east for prayer, we are a congregation located in the American West. This verse recognizes our geographic location by evoking the many hills and mountains which surround us and are visible from Olympia. This verse also highlights values which are important to us as a congregation: a commitment to peace, justice, righteousness and charity.

Aron Kodesh (Holy Ark): “My House shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples.” –Isaiah 56:7

This verse contains the name of our community—beit tfilah, “house of prayer.” It speaks to the universal aspirations of Judaism as we seek to transform not only ourselves, but the world, for the good. This verse reminds us that there are many paths to God and the sacred, the fact that we need to be mindful and open to all, and that TBH is more than a place for worship, but a community center and beit am—“a house of the people.”