‘Shabbat elevator’ common in Israel planned for Riverhead temple

BARBARAELLEN KOCH PHOTO | A 1,200-square-foot addition will be built at Temple Israel, built in 1948.

Temple Israel of Riverhead is planning a 1,200 square-foot renovation that includes an elevator to make the temple handicapped accessible.

But it won’t be your everyday elevator; it will be what Rabbi Bill Siemers called a “Shabbat elevator.”

Under Jewish law, work is not permitted on the Sabbath, or Shabbat, which lasts from sunset on Friday through Saturday evening, according to Rabbi Siemers.

And the act of pushing buttons on an elevator to make it operate constitutes work, he said. Because of this, the elevator that will be installed in the temple, located at Northville Turnpike and Ostrander Avenue, will be specially designed to conform with the rules of Shabbat, Rabbi Siemers said.

“The elevator is going to be programmed so that it runs continuously at certain times during Shabbat, Rabbi Siemers said.

“It will simultaneously be handicapped accessible and it’ll be an elevator thats operation conforms to Jewish law,” he said.

Such elevators are common is Israel, he said.

The elevator is programmed to run continuously and people can get on and off without pressing any buttons to make it work.

The elevator will be located in the back of the building, according to Richard Israel, a builder and former president of the temple who is overseeing the renovation work.

“It was very important to the congregation that the front of the building not be altered,” Mr. Israel said. “We are very proud of this building and its architecture and no one wanted to see an elevator shaft going up right in front.”

In addition to the elevator, the restoration work will also include construction of a rabbi’s study and office as well as a handicapped accessible bathroom in the back of the building, Mr. Israel said.

The elevator will take people to a balcony that will be built on the upper floor,  where they then walk or take a wheel chair to the front door, Mr. Israel said. The elevator also will go to the temple’s downstairs social hall, he said.

The temple’s congregation celebrated its 100th year in September, and the building itself was built in 1948. Prior to that, the congregation met in a building on the corner of East Avenue and Northville Turnpike, which is now used as a warehouse.

In 2011, the temple underwent extensive renovations upstairs that brought the sanctuary into compliance with handicapped accessibility regulations while also refurbishing the pews and upgrading the heating, air conditioning and ventilation to make them more energy efficient, Mr. Israel said.

The temple still doesn’t know what the total cost of the project will be and has been raising funds for the work, Mr. Israel said.

The architectural work for the project has been donated by architect Robert Brown of Greenport-based Fairweather-Brown Design Associates. Mr. Brown is a member of the congregation.

Mr. Israel said he hopes the restoration will be complete before the high holy days in September.

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