By ROSA MERCADO
VINDICATOR STAFF WRITER
BOARDMAN -- Rabbi Simeon Kolko, the head of Ohev Tzedek-Shaarei Torah Congregation, believes that evolution is a good thing -- the evolution of his synagogue, that is.
In May, an "evolution" took place at the 45-year-old synagogue at 5245 Glenwood Ave. -- a complete renovation of the sanctuary that has big effects on the 200-member congregation.
"The most significant aspect of the renovations is that the sanctuary is now handicapped-accessible," said Rabbi Kolko, who has been the leader of the congregation for two years.
"This enables anyone in the congregation to ascend to the bimah, or the backbone, where the service is led from."
Rabbi Kolko explained that the bimah is the elevated platform where the service is conducted.
"It's really the center of a lot of the liturgical and ritual activity that occurs during the service," he said.
When one of the older members of the congregation was called to the bimah during service to recite a blessing one day, Rabbi Kolko recalls that the man's children had to carry him up the platform.
"I think for a lot of people that sort of image was a catalyst because they can understand this is what happens when you're not accessible," explained Rabbi Kolko. "People either won't be able to participate in leading the service, or they'll do so under circumstances that are not conducive to their dignity."
The rabbi said that this difficulty was one of the main reasons to do the renovations.
In addition to the new ramp, the sanctuary received new carpet and new lighting fixtures and extra space was created in the back for those in wheelchairs. The total cost of the work was around $60,000.
Equal in God's eyes
But there's a more important reason why the rabbi wanted the change.
"It's the spiritual realization that everyone is equally precious in God's eyes, and everyone should have equal access to the opportunities to lead the service and express themselves religiously," said Rabbi Kolko. "Having a handicapped-accessible bimah makes it possible for anyone who has the interest, the skills and the ability, to participate in the leading aspects of the service."
On Aug. 23, the refurbished synagogue will install new officers, and recognize those who helped with the project.
Attorney Dan Roth played a key role in helping congregation leaders secure the necessary funds. Roth was the administer of the Adler Trust, which provided funds to charitable causes. The trust was to end, and the last of its funds were given to Rabbi Kolko's congregation for their renovation project.
Roth said he wanted to assist in making a barrier-free building for members of the congregation.
"They are simply one of a great number of charitable institutions in the Valley," said Roth. "They do an excellent job, they are a pillar of the community and a worthwhile recipient."
Rabbi Kolko said congregation members Arthur Einzig and Jerry Rudick were also vital to the renovation project.
From 9:15 a.m. to 11:45 a.m. Dec. 7, the congregation will have a formal dedication of the new sanctuary on the last day of Hanukkah, which observes deep and free faith.
Rabbi Kolko feels it is the perfect time for the dedication and for spiritual recommitment.
He's also glad that everyone now has the opportunity to participate.
"I hope I played the role as a spiritual leader in helping people to understand why this was something we needed to do," the rabbi said.