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updated: 12/17/2012 10:23 AM

Suburban synagogue celebrates building renovation

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Hanukkah celebrates the restoration of the Temple in Jerusalem, so it was only fitting that the Chabad and F.R.E.E. of Niles synagogue celebrated its renovation Sunday during the last day of the holiday.

For a quarter of a century, the address at 9401 Margail Ave., in an unincorporated area of Cook County near Des Plaines, has served two communities: the Lubavitch Chabad and F.R.E.E. The latter consists of families who have come to the United States from the former Soviet Union.

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During that time, services were held in a structure that one of its two rabbis, Binyomin Scheiman, described as a typical neighborhood ranch house.

He said it was so small that the congregation was busting at the seams.

"(It) was such an old building, that it really needed repair, and frankly speaking, you didn't feel comfortable bringing somebody in. It was run down," he said. "This way, there is a whole new excitement. People that we haven't seen for years are coming in, because it's fresh, it's new, it's bigger and everything is up to standard. It's sort of like an extreme makeover."

Scheiman said the renovation had been discussed for a couple of decades.

The entire project cost around $500,000.

"A lot of the money that came to fund this project is from people who came from the former Soviet Union and never had the opportunity to have a Jewish education or such a nice Jewish synagogue," explained Raizel Hershkovich, the wife of the other rabbi, Naftoly Hershkovich.

At one point, the project faced a financial crisis. That was when angels -- the term Rabbi Hershkovich used to describe people who donated much of their services, including the project's architect and contractor -- stepped in to push the project to its successful completion.

Architect Vlad Radutny of Studio IDE, who hails from Ukraine in the former Soviet Union and lives in Chicago, said one of the reasons he undertook the project was that "this community was behind us when we came to this country."

Radutny said one of his goals as an architect was to make sure the space was flexible enough for both services and celebrations. One of the additions was a skylight, which the previous space didn't allow because of the eight-foot ceilings.

"They were never able to raise the Torah," he said.

For the effusive Rabbi Hershkovich, the project's completion was nothing short of miraculous -- and very appropriate to the season.

"Hanukkah is a holiday of miracles. To me this is a Hanukkah miracle," he said.

The building still isn't big enough to house the 600 people who attend Yom Kippur services, which are held in Feldman Park. But it is certainly large enough to accommodate the 100 people it is expected to draw for Saturday services.

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