Behind the Door: Congregation Shaarei Shamayim
January 22, 2010
Source: Community Partnership Update/February 2010
Part of a continuing series of articles highlighting key institutions in the Clifton Community
Driving down Briarcliff Road, it's easy to pass Congregation Shaarei Shamayim, a traditional synagogue located at 1810 Briarcliff Road next to QT. Large satellite dishes camouflage this distinctive structure as it was once the old office for CBS Atlanta. A chain link fence and a white sign with calligraphy font also help to hide the two-story brick building sitting back from the road. But when you step inside this place of worship, an immediate sense of unity and togetherness is palpable.
"We are a community of families who care about each other," says Rabbi Mark Kunis. "We try to break down some of the barriers and walls that separate our people so everyone feels welcome here. That's why we offer both separate (machitza) and mixed seating for men and women and members and guests."
Congregation Shaarei Shamayim moved into the Clifton Community in March 2002 with 30 families worshiping at the shule. In just a few years, membership has expanded to include 120 families and Shaarei Shamayim will soon begin to build its new site at Briarcliff and North Druid Hills roads.
Shaarei Shamayim is a traditional synagogue in that it actively works to keep members engaged. "We are a participatory shule. Our members, who can, chant the different parts of the service, and for those who can't, we offer to teach them. And from time to time, members will lead Bible study as well," said Kunis. Throughout the year, members also celebrate Sabbath meals and holidays together including a Seder during Passover, Purim and Chanuka.
In addition to the many feasts and activities planned for members and guests, Shaarei Shamayim also makes arrangements three times a year to bring in scholars and mystics for special classes and training. "On March 7, mystic and healer Ilan Feldman will come for the week from Jerusalem to share his teachings on Jewish mysticism and Kabbalah," said Kunis.
Anyone looking to join an intimate, involved congregation can fill out an online application. "Although there is a set dues structure, if members can't afford it, they pay what they can afford," added Kunis.