New ark and renovations help brighten Beth David sanctuary

Congregation Beth David's members no longer have to worry whether their Torah scrolls will fly out of the ark during an earthquake.

In the 1989 Loma Prieta temblor, the ark's warped doors shot open. The scrolls fell out and one of the winding poles broke.

But the Saratoga congregation recently dedicated a new Aron Hakodesh that will hold the sacred objects snugly in place.

The ark is not only functional. It's "a little more striking" than the predecessor and part of an overall facelift designed to brighten the sanctuary, Rabbi Daniel Pressman said.

"Many of us had the feeling that the ark should be the dominant feature in the room. Now it is," said Pressman, spiritual leader of the 650-household Conservative synagogue west of San Jose.

The ark, designed by Sausalito architect Jerry Kler, stands 13 feet, 4 inches tall and 12 feet wide. Its light maple wood is accented with dark walnut trim. The inside is painted the royal blue of a prayer shawl stripe.

When closed, the two doors form a single arc in the shape of a tablet. The 3-foot-tall eternal light, which is part of a stylized glass menorah, rests above the doors.

Light is the theme of the spruced-up space, Pressman said. In addition to the ark, new ceiling lights have been installed. The dark brown walls opposite the bimah have been painted white. The lobby's old carpet has been replaced.

The project started more than two years ago with the unsolicited offer of funds from Joan and Henry Stone of San Jose. About five years ago the couple, both refugees from Nazi Germany, joined the synagogue where their adult daughter and granddaughter became b'not mitzvah.

Kler, who also designed an addition to San Francisco's Congregation Beth Sholom several years ago, said he researched European synagogues but found no traditional layout for arks. The few rules of ark design require the object to be off the floor, to be accessible and to close properly, he said.

Pressman wouldn't disclose the amount of the Stones' donation but said the overall revamping cost tens of thousands of dollars. Other individuals as well as the synagogue's sisterhood, men's club and general fund provided supplies, money and elbow grease.

The program for the dedication ceremony, held in mid-March, included two pages of thank-yous, Pressman noted.

Beth David donated its old ark to the Bar Yohay Sephardic Minyan in Sunnyvale. The minyan plans to revamp those warped doors, Pressman added.

"You can't throw an ark away."