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Shul in Your Bathrobe

A mansion in Ft. Lauderdale features a mini synagogue. Rabbi not included.

Rachel Shukert
February 22, 2016
Courtesy of Elliman
Courtesy of Elliman
Courtesy of Elliman
Courtesy of Elliman

It has long been a tradition of European aristocracy—particularly in the recusant families of England, such as the fictional Flytes of Brideshead Revisited—to build personal chapels on the ground of their cavernous country houses. Of course, nothing carries more social cachet than to be married (or one would imagine, to be eulogized, if not buried) in one’s family’s private place of worship, with one’s privately subsidized member of the clergy presiding. Apparently it’s a trend that has finally trickled down the nouveau riche, the kind of people who can’t easily point to an illustrious 16th century ancestor who was burned at the stake for heresy, but are hardly strangers to martyrdom nonetheless.

A few weeks ago, on The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills, newbie housewife Erika Girardi (who goes by the stage name Erika Jayne in her dance-pop club act and is married to one of the billionaire lawyers from the Erin Brockovich case), showed a gasping Lisa Rinna around the chapel she’d built in her Pasadena mansion as a repository for her collection of religious art. (The sanctuary doubles, of course, as a quiet “sanctuary” in which to take a breath from her busy life of lunching on private jets and being fitted for bejeweled body stockings.)

And now, a vast mansion in Ft. Lauderdale is revealed to have been built with its own personal mini-synagogue, complete with an ark, bimah, and comfortable seating for those whose tushies would prefer never to touch an uncushioned pew. Because sometimes you just don’t feel like shelling out hundreds of dollars for a ticket to the High Holiday services that honestly, should really be included with your membership dues, you know?

Aesthetically, with its white lacquer accents and quilted blue velvet walls, it’s not exactly a Frank Lloyd Wright, or even a Sidney Eisenshtaht. The private synagogue looks like the album your grandmother bought to put your bat mitzvah photos in circa 1982, but you know, it’s the thought that counts.

But I like the thought behind this one. I mean, a home, if anything, should be a reflection of one’s tastes, interests, and the things that make a person comfortable. Always dreamed of descending a double-sided marble staircase like the one they had in the von Trapp Schloss in The Sound of Music? Go for it! Want to cover your living room in apricot floral palm prints and your kitchen with plastic cloves of garlic, because the Golden Girls house is the center of your fantasy life and emotional comfort zone? Who am I to judge? And if you’ve always thought: Gee, maybe I would go to temple more if I didn’t have to dress up, and as long as I got to sit in my own comfy armchair, and could go to the bathroom whenever I wanted without my mother hissing at me and also, the services were 10 minutes long, then why should anyone stop you? Live your dream, Ft. Lauderdale. Just be prepared for your neighbors to build their dream house with two shuls—one to attend and one to never set foot in. Now that would be keeping up with the Cohens.

Editor’s note: A previous version of this article stated that the Ft. Lauderdale mansion is for sale. It’s not. It’s in contract.

Rachel Shukert is the author of the memoirs Have You No Shame? and Everything Is Going To Be Great,and the novel Starstruck. She is the creator of the Netflix show The Baby-Sitters Club, and a writer on such series as GLOW and Supergirl. Her Twitter feed is @rachelshukert.

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