RICHMOND -- Rabbi Yankel Kranz doesn't have a "no vacancy" sign at the Lubavitch Retreat Center, but reservations are required for Orthodox Jews who want to spend a night on the Sabbath.
Trying to help Orthodox Jews who live in the far suburbs and find themselves violating their strict religious law by driving to and from worship services, Kranz came up with the house of worship he says is unique.
"We're able to reconcile the standard of not driving on the Sabbath with suburban living," said Kranz, who originated the idea for a synagogue with living quarters.
Kranz, 45, is the regional director of the Chabad Lubavitch Organization of Virginia, a branch of Chasidism (also called Hasidism), part of Orthodox Judaism.
His group recently finished building a synagogue outside Richmond in western Henrico County. It has an innovation Kranz says is the first of its kind.
The square synagogue is ringed with rooms that open to the worship area. Visitors can spend a night when they come to worship.
The rooms, which can accommodate up to 50 persons, are tastefully furnished and contain two roll-out beds. Every two rooms has a connecting door to allow families to have joining rooms. Linens are included.
Outdoors there is a patio, complete with tables, chairs and umbrellas, and a swimming pool.
"They're motel rooms, if you will," said Richmond architect H. Louis Salomonsky, who designed the building.
"What we're doing here is a unique concept," said Kranz, a native of Connecticut who studied at the organization's headquarters in Brooklyn, N.Y. "If it works, I'm sure there'll be others built."
Kranz said he came up with the idea from a trip to Israel, where he visited excavations of ancient synagogues. They were round structures with a sunken area for worship. The depressed area, adopted in the Lubavitch building, apparently is based on a passage from Psalms which says, "I call on You from the depths," Kranz said.
Orthodox Jews living in the suburbs find themselves in a quandary because they may not live within walking distance of a synagogue, and Jewish law forbids driving on the Sabbath, which begins Friday afternoon and lasts until the stars come out Saturday night. The strict code also prohibits them from being driven by non-Jews, Kranz said.
Contractors who worked on the building had to sign an agreement saying they would not work on the project during the Jewish Sabbath, Kranz added.
The religious law has two effects, Kranz said: to limit the spread of synagogues out from cities, and, in cases where new ones are established in suburbs, to draw small groups of people to live near them. For example, of Richmond's three other synagogues, one is well inside the city limits and the others are on the outskirts.
Most people who visit the new synagogue probably will spend Friday and Saturday nights, Krantz said. The group previously held meetings in a converted home on the site.
The building's design is a "square doughnut," Salomonsky said. The "hole" is the sunken worship area surrounded by a "doughnut" ring of 18 suites.
The synagogue has a skylight in the center of its cathedral ceiling and 12 brick arches -- which represent the 12 tribes of Israel -- and a kitchen and dining area. It can seat up to 200 people.
In the last 10 years there has been a resurgence of people returning to Orthodox Judaism, Kranz said.
"Many of them have not been brought up in Orthodox homes, but they live in the suburbs . . . Therefore they need this kind of facility."
It took three years to raise the money and build the synagogue. It cost $750,000 and was financed by local contributions, Kranz said.
For its opening one recent weekend, the rooms were filled -- about half with local residents and half with out-of-towners.
"There are no vacancies," Kranz quipped. "There's no room at the inn."