“A culture is as rich and as capable of surviving as it has imaginative artists, skilled men of science, a high ethic level, workable government, land and natural resources, in about that order of importance,” wrote L. Ron Hubbard, the Scientology and Dianetics founder.
The new, 60,000-square-foot Center of Scientology Tel Aviv is in the historic Alhambra Theater, an Art Deco building constructed in 1937.
“That’s part of what attracted us to it. It’s a landmark and a symbol of the arts for Tel Aviv. So having the opportunity to restore it was wonderful,” Banks says.
“In the process of building this center, we took great care to make the design, décor, and history all integrate,” she adds. “Whether restoring the ornamental grillwork and color-block windows, or bringing new elements of lighting and color to the building, it was all very important to us.”
Although Scientology doesn’t have specific ties to Israel — which is home to several thousand Scientologists — Banks says the church opens Ideal Organizations in “cultural epicenters around the world,” such as Rome, London, Madrid, and Moscow. Ideal Organizations, one of which can also be found more locally in Dallas, reflect Hubbard’s vision of not only serving Scientologists, but also the larger community, according to a church release. (There is also a Church in Austin and a mission in Houston, which serve about 20,000 parishioners in Texas, Oklahoma, and Louisiana.)
But the Tel Aviv center is particularly significant, according to Banks.
“Israel is the birthplace of enduring faith and stands as the heart of religion for people across the world,” she says. “Nowhere else can you find ground steeped in such religious history and meaning. Israel is the point of origin of so much that mankind holds as holy and sacred, Jerusalem in particular.”
The Tel Aviv center is open to people of ever race, color, creed, and denomination, and the grand opening, held Aug. 21, featured Druze, Christian, Jewish, and Muslim leaders.
But it hit some roadblocks as it was being constructed, including suspected arson), which set construction back several months, according to Banks, who declined to comment further on the suspected arsonists, since they were charged but not convicted.
“Despite the setback, the new church is beautiful,” she says. “In the end, we overcame all the obstacles and are immensely proud to be part of this historic city of Tel Aviv-Jaffa. Sometimes you just have to keep your eye on the mountain despite any distractions.”
And, the church has enjoyed a “wonderful welcome” from the Tel Aviv and Jaffa community, Banks says.
“I think a lot of people in the community recognize that we’re here to work together and help tackle the same social problems they face,” she adds. “Whether it’s drug abuse, human rights violations, failing literacy rates, and more. We have common problems and we can join to make a change.”
And in addition to its role in bringing people together, the new center is also infused with the cultural and artistic history of the building, particularly its sense of artistry, creativity, and community, according to Banks.
“As you walk through it, you can feel the history throughout. The building had fallen into disrepair, but with the restoration we experienced all this history coming back to life,” she says. “To commemorate the Alhambra’s rich heritage, the second floor mezzanine houses a permanent exhibition open to the public, so the building’s history may be treasured for generations to come.”