Finegold Alexander Project Temple Beth Tzedek Receives Prestigious Innovative Solutions for Universal Design (isUD) Certification

Finegold Alexander celebrates the success of collaborative efforts in transforming synagogue space for enhanced inclusivity.

Exterior of Temple Beth Tzedek
February 22, 2024
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Finegold Alexander is delighted to announce the recognition of one of our synagogue projects, Temple Beth Tzedek (TBT) in Amherst New York, which has been honored with the Innovative Solutions for Universal Design (isUD) Certification. Collaborating closely with the congregation’s founder and director, Edward Steinfeld, and the general contractor, CannonDesign, our team ensured that the synagogue's10,000-square-foot expansion incorporated universal design principles.

The 18,000-square-foot synagogue (10,000 for the new sanctuary and community court addition and 8,000 of the legacy Congregation B’Nai Shalom building) elevates the concept of inclusion, expanding the synagogue’s culture of inclusion from acts of kindness to a physical place of accessibility. Fortunately, the Temple could leverage the expertise of Prof. Edward Steinfeld, director of the University at Buffalo’s Center for Inclusive Design and Environmental Access, who played a key role in the project.

“Universal design is a philosophy for making the environment more usable, healthier, and friendlier for all people. Unlike our old building, the new building is filled with light, emphasizes human connections with the natural world, and interprets Jewish practices in a contemporary way. We now have a home that is truly welcoming to all, and I think it will be an inspiration for a continuing search for inclusive practices.”
- Edward Steinfeld, Professor and Director of the University of Buffalo’s Center for Inclusive Design and Environmental Access
Temple Beth Tzedek sanctuary – photo courtesy of James Cavanaugh

Built on single level, without any steps, the synagogue empowers those with accessibility challenges to navigate the building seamlessly and participate in services. The amud (lectern) is adjustable, allowing individuals in wheelchairs to have an Aliyah (torah reading) at eye level. The absence of an elevated bimah (platform) removes obstacles for those with balance concerns, enabling them to lead the congregation in services.

The choice of wood structure, cladding and the simple square shape pay homage to the synagogue design style prevalent in pre-Holocaust Jewish communities in eastern Europe. The sanctuary’s sole artwork comprises 12 stained glass windows, representing the Tribes of Israel, which adorned the synagogue’s previous location on Getzville Road, and again referencing the antecedents of the highly colorful interiors of early 20th century wooden synagogues.

Earning the isUD Certification reflects our commitment to addressing the diverse needs of congregants and visitors by creating a more inclusive built environment. This historic accomplishment establishes Temple Beth Tzedek as the first place of worship to receive this prestigious distinction.

Click here to learn more about Temple Beth Tzedek!