A Landmark NYC Synagogue Rebuilds

19th Century Building Benefits from 21st Century Technology

by John Storyk and Steve Sockey

To augment the natural acoustics, and provide additional support for organ performances and other musical events held at New York’s Central Synagogue, the A/V consultants, WSDG of NYC, recommend a LARES electronic reverberation enhancement system. Instead of the traditional speaker cluster, the system includes 48 smaller loudspeakers positioned discreetly around the temple.
In August of 1998, fire reduced Manhattan’s Central Synagogue to a burned-out shell. A New York City landmark since 1872, the building is the oldest synagogue in continuous use in Manhattan. Miraculously, no one was hurt in the fire, and the synagogue’s historic ark and sacred Torah scrolls survived as well.
Determined to restore the temple to its original glory, the congregation retained a widely respected expert in architectural restoration, Hugh Hardy, R.A., AIA, of New York’s Hardy, Holzman, Pfeifer Associates. It soon became obvious that in spite of the tragic cause of the reconstruction work, the process would present an excellent opportunity to improve the temple’s acoustics and overall audio/visual capabilities.
To focus on this critical area, Hardy recruited an equally accomplished group of expert acoustical and electro-acoustical consultants. This New York-based Walters-Storyk Design Group (WSDG) was engaged to design and implement a high-end A/V and state-of-the-art sound system for both the 1000+ capacity main sanctuary and the lower-level auditorium/multi-purpose room/community center called the Pavilion.

The WSDG team discreetly positioned more than 48 relatively small loudspeakers throughout the temple to bring the sound closer to the listeners. Digital signal processing (DSP) and precisely calculated delay signals were sent to each loudspeaker to enhance the perception of the sound emanating directly from the bimah. The WSDG custom-designed sound system for the main sanctuary incorporates Eastern Acoustic Works (EAW) JF60, UB12 and JBL 24C/CT loudspeakers, powered by a Crown CT810 and four Crown CP660 amplifiers.

Following extensive meetings with the leaders of the synagogue and the Hardy, Holzman, Pfeifer architectural team, WSDG recommended a LARES electronic reverberation enhancement system controlled by four BSS Audio Soundweb signal processors and a Crestron control system.
The Pavilion, a large, lower-level auditorium capable of accommodating up to 700 guests represented yet another sound transmission challenge for WSDG. The Pavilion’s sound system includes 40 JBL ceiling speakers driven by four Crown CT810 amplifiers.
In-house video recording and playback capabilities were an equally integral and multi-purpose element of the Central Synagogue A/V installation. In addition to serving to document weddings, bar mitzvahs, lectures, memorial services and religious services, the system was designed to facilitate remote broadcast to enable people outside the facility to participate in services and events. WSDG designed AV1, a control room placed in the basement, to house the LARES rack equipment and a full complement of video production gear. Thirteen patchable video camera inputs positioned throughout Central Synagogue also terminate in AV1.
The video capture system includes five Canon video cameras. Two are mounted on either side of the congregation. A third camera is positioned at the rear of the sanctuary. The camera sites are equipped with Telemetric tilt/pan/zoom remote controls which are controlled in AV1. Two additional Canon video cameras can be placed on Velbon tripods and used anywhere in the synagogue.
Downstairs in the Pavilion, which includes a small stage and hosts concerts, wedding receptions, parties, dinners, etc., a retractable Panasonic PT Series video projector has been mounted on the ceiling. The projector has multiple input points and can be used for programs ranging from simulcast live feeds from the main sanctuary to Powerpoint presentations for lectures, DVD’s, etc. A retractable Da-Lite 65 x 116-inch screen was supplied by Altel Systems, a local company which installed all the technical systems throughout the complex. The screen is used to display a variety of programs ranging from montages of family videos to special films.
A wide range of Extron devices including PC interfaces, a computer video switcher and a MAV 1616 matrix switcher are engaged to control the video cameras and Panasonic projector.
In the AV1 control room, S-VHS video production decks include three Panasonic recorders, a player and two Panasonic production monitors. All of the video systems are linked by five Bi-Tronics S-Video patch bays. AV1 is also equipped with an ADC audio patch bay. Audio monitoring is handled by a JBL LSR25 loudspeaker and/or Sony headphones. Audio is mixed with a Yamaha ProMix O1V digital audio mixer, and video is handled with a Videonics MX-1 digital video mixer.
Jeremiah Greenblatt, an independent a/V technician who handles sound and video mixing and recording, was hired to operate the Central Synagogue Audio/Video system almost immediately after the system went online in the fall of 2001. On call whenever needed, he spends an average of three days a week onsite, prepping audio and video coverage of religious services, weddings, parties and special events.
Central Synagogue’s Director of Operations, Toby Neiman, had first worked with Greenblatt in Chicago where he began his busy career as a theatrical lighting and sound designer.
“Toby Neiman quickly realized that a trained operator could maximize the potential of the A/V system installed by SIA/WSDG,” Greenblatt says. “Initially the congregation didn’t fully appreciate the options made available by the new technology. They had had nothing close to this level of technical sophistication prior to the fire. The decision to bring in a pro wasn’t dictated by its complexity however, because it is designed to work with pre-sets programmed into the Crestron control system. The feeling was that a pro has a deeper understanding of the technology and an ability to take full advantage of its capabilities. The analogy to computer technology is quite apt,” Greenblatt points out. “Many people have basic computer skills, e-mail, word processing, etc., but someone trained to work with Photoshop or Powerpoint or graphic design programs can get a great deal more use out of a MAC. You really want someone who can do more than turn it on and off, load in video cassettes and CDs, and basically let it run on auto pilot.”
“We have occasionally brought in a larger audio mixing console to accommodate a large ensemble performance or for special concerts by the Casavant Freres organ, but I’ve had great success mixing performances with the Yamaha ProMIX console and also with Soundweb software via laptop. I don’t anticipate installing a larger board unless the level and frequency of concert performances increases dramatically,” Greenblatt adds. New York’s Central Synagogue has risen from the ashes of a tragic fire. Fully restored to its original majesty, it stands today as a monument to the technical and artistic expertise of a group of dedicated professionals.