Linksfield Shul reinvented as a vibrant communal space
Today the director of Hubo Architectural Designers, Marcus is responsible for bringing a new perspective to the shul, a project which has been in the offing for many years.
Although only the first phase is complete, the New Link (as the shul complex is called) is intended to inspire and uplift the congregation, offering something unique for every age group, be they religious or not.
An untold amount of planning and co-ordination has gone into this project. Says Marcus, “After taking a gap year in Israel, I spent time dedicated to the shul’s youth in Shabboses while studying architecture. I met regularly with Associate Rabbi Levi Avtzon at the shul, and together we tried to create a vision for what the shul should look like.”
When a few community members expressed an interest in change in May 2017, Marcus took up the challenge to redesign the shul and modernise its campus. By then a qualified architect, his aim was not to get rid of the existing building, but to enhance and add to it.
“People were excited about the possible designs and changes, and a committee was set up to manage the project and find donors,” he said. The project was not commissioned by one person but many, becoming a home-grown vision for the shul that developed organically.
“Linksfield Shul is unique in that it is the only shul in the area, and it shares a campus with a school. Six hundred students use it daily, and a community consisting of a variety of people occupy the space of Shabbos,” Marcus says. “The goal was to activate the space, and make it usable 24/7, tapping into the potential the campus had to offer.”
Marcus says he didn’t focus on the building as a shul, but as a space with much more to offer.
“I envisioned a safe, modern space that just happened to have a shul in it. A place for youth to hang out, for mothers to catch up, for fathers to learn in, and for grandparents to attend recreational classes. It’s not about being religious, but being in a space that welcomes you for any purpose.”
This vision was shared by Avtzon. “We wanted a community centre with a shul, not a shul with a community centre. We aim to offer numerous portals of access to this space, and the shul is only one of them. We want to foster a positive Jewish experience for every person here, and saw that this space could deliver just that,” he says.
“The philosophy of the big shul has become ‘reinvent or die slowly’. Big shuls are no longer being built, suggesting that the model doesn’t work. However, the truth is that it’s a beautiful model that can achieve so much if it makes the most of what it has available. Shtiebels [smaller shuls] are niched, while larger shuls are spaces for everyone that have tremendous potential.”
He continues, “Today it’s not enough for a big shul to say that its 50-year history justifies its existence. Nostalgia is not a reason. Every shul needs to ask itself what its purpose really is, and find an answer that will create a vision for survival. These shuls need to reinvent themselves, becoming big community centres with a shul instead of simply big shuls.”
With funding from various donors (amongst them Dis-Chem founders Ivan and Lynette Saltzman), construction began in February 2018.
Marcus and his team sought to utilise and accentuate various pre-existing elements of the building, converting it into something modern and refreshing. By Rosh Hashanah 2018, both campus shuls, hall, kitchen, foyer, and bathrooms were ready.
Although not yet complete, the front of the shul now features the “youth box”, a cubical space overlooking the shul’s entrance that will become a recreational area for the shul’s youngsters on Shabbat.
Other new features include a Jerusalem city walk which captures the spirit of Old City through various replications of its architecture, and a state-of-the-art mikvah.
The same transformative principle has been applied to the shul’s interior, which now includes elements that completely redefine the shul experience. The two upstairs women’s galleries are now connected by a bridge. The bimah has been lowered and enhanced with laser-cut images representing the 12 tribes, and the iconic ten commandments at the front of the room are made to appear as though they are floating.
“With every design, we tried to make it seem as though it had originally been built that way,” says Marcus. “We wanted people to feel that it was still the shul they knew, but with something refreshing about it. The shul was built in 1977, and we wanted to play on the nostalgia of the community while looking into the future.”