One of the last synagogues built in the striking Moorish-Revival style, the Park Avenue Synagogue first opened its doors in 1927. As the congregation grew over the years, the interior spaces needed to grow too. In 2017, the community undertook a multiyear expansion, adding the Eli M. Black Lifelong Learning Center and renovating the main sanctuary. To unveil the new space, Synagogue leaders asked the talented lighting designers at Nimblist to design the lighting for its debut event and rededication ceremony. Rather than stage temporary theatrical lighting, Nimblist proposed a permanent solution—retrofit the antique, ornate lighting fixtures with dynamic Ketra lamps to create a lighting experience that would enhance the space long after the event had ended.
We were able to use Ketra lamps to first create an incredible one-day event, and ultimately leave the lighting behind to make the space better. I am very proud of the permanence [of this installation].
Synagogue leaders envisioned a rededication event during Hanukkah, that called upon the symbolism of light to celebrate the evolution and long-standing history of the space. The vision was to use light to represent the passage of time, starting the ceremony with a dim, amber-hued light to emulate the glow of oil lamps from the synagogue’s early years, then evolve throughout the ceremony to more dynamic, colorful lighting to represent modern times.
The idea would require a variety of fixtures, and the ability to create both white light and saturated colors. But there was no existing lighting control to start from - all of the lighting was turned on or off from an electrical breaker box. Other challenges included the high ceilings, limited access points, and lack of network infrastructure.
Given the space constraints and creative vision, the Nimblist team had two choices:
In the end, choosing Ketra provided the simplest path to achieving the Synagogue’s immediate goals, while also delivering a long-term lighting solution to enhance how the congregation experiences the space. . Replacing each of the nearly 200 existing bulbs with Ketra lamps offered the dramatic color-changing effects desired for the rededication ceremony, while highlighting the ornate décor and minimizing disruption to the antique architecture. With Ketra in place, the lighting was event-ready, and required only 4 temporary lights at the entrance and 3 video screens to achieve the synagogue’s vision for a theatrically inspired event.
The wireless aspect of Ketra was critical to the install. “Pulling wires for an install like this in such a limited timeframe would have been impossible,” says Scott Schecter, Production Manager from Nimblist. Working according to the event timeline, the Nimblist team had only 48 hours to complete the install – which was easier and faster to achieve with a Ketra bulb retrofit. In contrast, rigging and theatrical lighting would have taken more manpower to meet the 2-day install timeline. And a hard-wired lighting & controls solution would not have been an option for the timeline or the space
Pulling off something like this in such a unique architectural space is a whole different thought process from an arena show. It’s so rewarding to lean into the nuances of the architecture, test our limits, and be open when the ideas reveal themselves. Then it becomes about how we can get it done. It’s a real advantage to have the Lutron spec team in our corner.
The Ketra solution turned out to be even better than any temporary theatrical lighting: “Ketra enabled us to take full advantage of the existing fixtures to create an incredible, theatrical program. And in the end…we made the place better. That’s a really cool feeling – a convergence of so many successes,” says Brant.
Now, custom controls in the sanctuary offer instant access to preprogrammed lighting scenes for every service. When these scenes aren’t specific enough, cantor Azi Schwartz has full programming access from his iPhone app, allowing him to make on-the-fly lighting adjustments to complement the music and the message of each service.
The Park Avenue Synagogue’s Ketra journey is ongoing—Just in time for the September 2020 High Holidays an overhead track was installed over the stage, kicking off “Phase 2” in the Synagogue’s lighting enhancement. A Phase 3 Ketra addition is currently being planned for 2021—Stay tuned for how the congregation will continue to tell their story through the medium of light.