Category Archives: JRC Construction Diaries

More JRC Kudos!


I’m told this one is pretty huge: JRC’s new synagogue building was recently chosen as one of the top ten green projects of 2009 by the American Institute of Architects.  Here’s an excerpt from their announcement:

The new synagogue for the Jewish Reconstructionist Congregation (JRC) in Evanston, Illinois, replaces the group’s original building and is located adjacent to a residential area, public park, community center, and tracks of the Skokie Swift commuter train. The design balances the limitations of a small site with an ambitious program that promotes worship, education, and community objectives.

Offices, early childhood classrooms, and a chapel occupy the first floor; the religious school and library are on the second floor; and a sanctuary, social hall, and kitchen are on the third floor. This strategy allowed cost-effective construction of high-volume space for the sanctuary.

JRC’s commitment to the principle of tikkun olam—Hebrew for “repairing the world”—is manifest in the building’s architecture. On a modest budget, the synagogue achieved a LEED Platinum certification, a primary goal of its board of directors. JRC has become a community leader, demonstrating benefits of green design.

JRC Goes Platinum!

I am thrilled to announce JRC has officially achieved a LEED level Platinum rating from the US Green Building Council (USGBC), making it the highest rated green house of worship in the world!

I’ve written about this extensively before, but just to recap:  LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) is the point-based review process created by USGBC to certify green buildings.  It is an extremely rigorous system requiring creative integrated design, detailed record keeping and a demanding submission process. Platinum is the highest of four levels of LEED certification, requiring fifty-two points. In the end, JRC earned all fifty-three of the points for which we applied!

Visit the JRC website for the official announcement.  For much, much more on the entire project, check out the JRC Construction Diaries in this blog.

JRC Comes Home


Yesterday was a day of celebration that JRC will never forget. On the coldest day of the winter, (6 degrees, wind chill of -21) several hundred JRC members generated abundant warmth together as we moved into our new synagogue home at 303 Dodge, Evanston. That’s us above, making our first motzi in our new building. But I’m getting ahead of myself…


We first gathered in the cafeteria of Chute Middle School, (site of one of JRC’s earlier temporary locations in the 1970s) and took out our Torah scrolls with a brief service. Then, covered with many fleecy layers, carrying our four Torah scrolls under a huppah, we processed out into the frozen Evanston streets to walk some six blocks to 303 Dodge. (Earlier in the morning, several brave JRC souls actually carried two of the scrolls nearly four miles from our most recent temporary location, Sha’arei Tikvah!)



When we arrived at JRC, we found several hundred more JRCers waiting for us at the building. We stopped at the entrance, sang “Pitchu Li” (“Open for me the gates of righteousness…”), affixed our mezuzah with a blessing, and entered our new home for the first time.



We ascended to the third floor, and sang and danced together for what seemed like an eternity to live music provided by JRC’s house klezmer band, Heavy Shtetl. We then placed the Torah scrolls in our new ark (see pix at the bottom – more on that in a bit.) After hearing heartfelt words from JRC president David Pinzur, I addressed the crowd, then we did our first communal kiddush and motzi together in our new home (after which the Cantor and I dropped the challah and spilled the wine on the bimah…) We then spent the rest of the afternoon, sharing food, going on self-guided tours of our new green facility, and just spending great quality time together.



Below you’ll find some pix of our beautiful new ark which was installed in our sanctuary late Saturday evening, just in time for the celebration. It was designed and constructed by Maryland-based metalsmith/craftsman David Bacharach. We were delighted that David was able to join us for the festivities (as were architects Carol Ross-Barney and Michael Ross.)

Words cannot describe the level of joy our JRC family felt on this day. It was, without question, a once in a lifetime experience for us all. But the sweetest part is knowing what is yet to come. Up until now, this has only been a building – now that it has been filled with our bodies and souls it is truly sacred sacred space. We are all so humbled at what we have accomplished and so profoundly excited about the many sacred memories that will fill these four walls in the years ahead.

Thus ends my last official JRC Construction Diary post. Of course, it is really only just the beginning…

(For a nice Fox News Chicago report on JRC’s gala move-in day, click here.)




That I May Dwell Among Them


“And let them build Me a sanctuary that I may dwell among them.” (Parashat Terumah, Exodus 25:8)

This week’s Torah portion has incredible resonance as our congregation puts the final touches on our new spiritual home in preparation for our return home this Sunday. That’s a worker above finishing the ark in the chapel; below, JRC member Kate Spector helps fill the Religious School cabinets with school supplies.

Countless devoted JRC members have worked tirelessly to prepare our new synagogue building for this long-awaited day. Just as the ancient Israelites constructing the tabernacle in the wilderness, we have learned that it is not the building, but the process of building that creates sacred community. During the course of this process, we have truly discovered what it means to have God dwell in our midst.


What Makes a Green Shul Green?


JRC will be moving home this Sunday! If you’ve been reading my JRC Construction Diary updates over this past year and a half, you must surely know what a long, powerful trip this has been for our congregational community. And you will also know that our new synagogue building is a green shul, having been built according to sacred Jewish values of environmental sustainability.

What makes a green shul green, you may ask? Click below for your own personal tour…

Continue reading

JRC Construction Diary #30


Things are getting exciting as the contractor puts the final touches on JRC’s new home. They are looking to finish the bulk of the work this week so that we can get ready for an upcoming indoor air quality test, a requirement of LEED certification by the US Green Building Council.

The picture above shows the cypress that wraps along the ceiling of our first floor chapel. The shot below shows the cypress slats that have installed along the sanctuary wall. Just to make things official, our name went up on one of the gabion walls in front of the building (second pic down) and beneath this you can see our front entryway. It features a ceremonial door made of reclaimed maple trees from our former site. The last two pix offer views of the kitchen and of a men’s room respectively.

The big move will take place during the first week in February. On 2/8-9 we will hold our final Shabbat services in our temporary site (Shaarei Tikvah in Chicago) then on Sunday, February 10, we will joyfully process with JRC Torah scrolls as we bring them to our new home!

Stay tuned for more…






JRC Construction Diary #29


The final interior finish continues. The two pix below show the reclaimed cypress slats that are being installed along the walls of the sanctuary. The bottom pic: the metal overhead hood for the kitchen stove. (The stove itself will be delivered next week.)

The other big news of the week is that we have, at long last, received our final move in date: February 4. JRC’s triumphant return to 303 Dodge is finally in sight!




JRC Construction Diary #28


While there is still a bit of final exterior work to be done, the majority of the work now is primarily interior finish. The pic above shows a lovely view of the bimah construction. You can see how the steps have been cut out and run along the periphery. When finished, the bimah floor will be made of dark walnut.

A radically different kind of picture can be found below. Now why would I possibly be showing you a close-up shot of a toilet handle? This is a feature of JRC’s water saving “dual flush” toilets: you pull the handle up for liquid waste (which needs less water) and push down for solid waste (which uses more water). Our toilets will clearly necessitate a new consciousness raising effort for bathroom usage in our new building. (JRC members: consider yourselves on alert!)

Below this are two views of the reclaimed cypress which is now being installed along the sanctuary walls. The final pic is a view of the Jerusalem stone walkway that leads to the building’s main entrance.

We’re kicking to the finish!





JRC Construction Diary #27

We are now closing in on the final two months of construction. The exterior is now almost completely finished (see pic above.) The next pic below offers include an interior view of the sanctuary. You can see the framework for the bimah platform being constructed and the sound baffle on the left, which will hang directly over the Torah reading table. The second pic down shows reclaimed cypress slats that are currently being installed on the chapel walls and ceiling. (Cypress is a main feature of our building that will also figure prominently in our sanctuary.) Below this is an interior view of our main staircase looking down from the third floor. The next pic shows our parking lot across the street. It has now been completely paved and striped (though it might be hard to tell with all that snow.)

The second pic from the bottom shows one of the cabinets and counter tops in the Religious School workroom. All our cabinet faces and shelving are made from Dakota Burl, which is a wood-like material made from recycled sunflower husks. At bottom there is a photo of the tile in one of the bathrooms. All of the sinks and toilets have been delivered to the site and the plumber will start installing them next week.

We continue to move along with construction, most of which is essentially finish work, such as millwork, installation of doors, counter tops and other final pieces. The bimah will be completed and the walls of the sanctuary will be worked on so that the cypress siding can be installed.

Finally: our local NBC affiliate, NBC5 recently featured JRC’s new building on the evening news. Click here to watch!







JRC Construction Diary #26


We can safely say construction has entered the “home stretch” phase (not a technical term). As you can see from the pic above, the south side exterior is almost complete. The glass on the curtainwall should be installed in the next week or two. The pic below offers a close up view of the gabion fences which run along the south and east side of the building. The fence on the front of the building is approximately four feet tall and filled with pieces of brick, stone and other material from other buildings that were recently demolished. This material would typically go into a landfill and has been reclaimed to be used in our fences. (In the original building plan, gabion was to be used for the entire exterior shell. In the end, we opted for reclaimed cypress instead.)

The next two pix down show our building’s white reflective roof. Most homes and buildings in America, in fact, are built with dark roofs that absorb heat, forcing air conditioners to work up to 20% longer and use a fifth more power. JRC’s reflective roof will help our air conditioning system to work more efficiently, especially during peak usage hours. The small domed items on the second pic down are Solartube skylights that will let natural light into our kitchen.

The second pic from the bottom shows the interior of one classroom and the final shot shows the new sidewalk across the street from our building. We will be working on the remaining sidewalks around the property over the next couple of weeks.