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There is an old Chasidic saying: “Just as the hand, held before the eye, can hide the tallest mountain, so the routine of everyday life can keep us from seeing the vast radiance and the secret wonders that fill the world.” Here’s a brief guide to some of the highlights of our sacred space that might otherwise go unnoticed.
Pausing at the front doors, you will notice two mezuzahs. These were hand-crafted in sterling silver, gold, and cloisonné by Gail Rapoport when the “new” sanctuary was completed in 1986. The design of one mezuzah echoes the outside of the temple; the other features an opalescent enamel and is, in Gail’s words “the best mezuzah I ever made.”
Looking up as you stand in the foyer, you see a whimsical mobile hanging in welcome. These painted steel-cut Jewish symbols were designed by the late Isa Barnett, father of Patina Gallery owner Ivan Barnett. “The fact that it’s kinetic, and always in some sort of movement, makes sense to me in that Judaism, with its five thousand years of history, is always reshaping itself.” Wise words from Ivan.
The framed print that hangs above between the doors to the social hall and the sanctuary is the work of congregant and talented artist, Sara Novenson. Sara chose Hannah from her Women of the Bible series because “Hannah stands for prayer.” When praying to God for a child, Hannah said, “If You give me a son, I will give him back to You.” She did give birth to a son and she named him Samuel. This story has special significance to Sara, as her parents were Hannah and Samuel.
Architect Ed Mazria recalls that Rabbi Leonard Helman requested only two things in the design of the Main Sanctuary: that he feel like part of the congregation when conducting services and that the congregants feel united in the space. Thus the lower step of the bima extends forward into the congregation and the seating is at a 45-degree angle, so congregants can see each other across the aisle instead of staring at the back of the person in front of them. The sanctuary faces east, and the windows on the west wall are high, so that a direct beam of sunlight washes over the congregation as the Ne’ilah service ends each Yom Kippur.
We take great pride in our new ark: a perfect example of every cloud having a silver lining. In 2008, Temple Beth Shalom suffered a roof leak that required the total removal of the former ark. Rod Gesten’s design for the new ark interior was inspired by the white oak and brass ark doors which, years ago, inspired the design of our Torah table, built by Bill Light. The twelve handmade stars that grace the ark’s tile backdrop were made by Kari Rives to echo the stars in the tile wall above it.
The high tile wall has its own story. Len Goodman, owner of Arius Tile, was originally engaged only to create the dedication wall in the foyer. Once installed, however, the gorgeous tile work in the entry made the sanctuary look drab. The interlocking pattern of stars above the bima was inspired by Islamic tile work. Len says it took two weeks just to figure out the geometry of the pattern. The large Star of David in the center echoes the iron star that hangs above the Temple’s main entrance.
The ner tamid (eternal light) above the ark was made by Bette Yozell. The Hebrew says of the Torah, “It is a tree of life for those who hold fast to it.” The motif of the tree intermingled with the Star of David reflects this quote from the psalms. The root system of the tree reminds us that we all need to be grounded in that which sustains us.
Temple Beth Shalom is blessed and honored to have several Torahs.