‘We Had to Build It’


As Jews around the world prepared for the latest New Year, members of Congregation Or Ami also welcomed the start of something else: a new educational center.

The day before Rosh Hashanah, the synagogue obtained a certificate of occupancy for its new $2.5 million building, which includes 14 classrooms, a library, gift shop, expanded office space and a new youth lounge.

The synagogue moved in just a few weeks later.

The congregation celebrated the completion of the new structure last weekend at a dinner gala. The following day, members and their children gathered for a ribbon-cutting ceremony.

"By providing sufficient classroom space, we've freed up other meeting rooms for family education, adult education and communal activities that we would want to have while classes are in session," said congregational leader Rabbi Kenneth Carr. "The new building gives us the opportunity to be vibrant and vital in the community."

According to Gloria Becker, the school's educational director, enrollment has increased from 180 students to 280 in the past seven years. Roughly five years ago, she said, the Reform temple in Lafayette Hill knew it had to do something to accommodate increasing numbers.

"The school is central to our ability to service the Jewish community, and we undertook the project in earnest," said board president Peter Weidman, who helped organize what was the synagogue's largest capital campaign. "It was at one point unimaginable. We had to begin to push ourselves beyond where we had been pushed before."

This is not the first time the building's seen change. The congregation first dedicated its Ridge Pike space in 1960, and has since renovated and expanded three other times in the past four decades. This newest construction, though, is the largest project undertaken thus far, with a total cost of $3.5 million for the 19,300-square-foot building.

"We [had] the catch phrase, 'If we build it, they will come,' " said Weidman. "[But] they were already coming!"


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