Beth Sholom yahrzeit wall merges high-tech with holy

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Inside Congregation Beth Sholom’s much-talked-about sanctuary is a yahrzeit wall that complements the building’s contemporary style, while boasting its own technological flair.

Architect Stanley Saitowitz conceptualized the design — large sheets of glass with names etched in black, lit by LEDs (light-emitting diodes). Allan Schwartz, a member of the building committee, added to the concept by making the lighting computer-controlled.

Roughly 2,200 names will fit on the glass; currently 1,400 are listed.

“The feedback we’ve heard is universally positive,” Schwartz said. “The ultra-clean look is very nice in our very modern sanctuary.”

The automated yahrzeit wall is hooked up to a small embedded computer. The “yahrzeit appliance computer,” as Schwartz calls it, recognizes all the names and drives the light automation.

Lights are lit 18 minutes before the beginning of the Shabbat prior to the observed memorial and remain lit until the following Friday. In addition to individual yahrzeit events, lights are turned on at Yizkor services and, when appropriate, during Yom HaShoah and Yom HaZikaron.

The yahrzeit database calculates sunset time and keeps an accurate Jewish calendar; changes can be made from the synagogue’s office computer.

The new system makes the yahrzeit wall more environmentally sound and easier to maintain, not to mention safer.

“We used to have a synagogue volunteer running around, screwing in and screwing out light bulbs every Friday,” Schwartz said. “Some bulbs ran particularly hot, others didn’t function at all. Two caught fire, and I found burn scars and frayed wires when disassembling the old fixtures.”