Torah Thoughts Vayakhel-Pikudei
When Frank Lloyd Wright and Rabbi Mortimer J. Cohen collaborated to design Temple Beth Shalom in Elkins Park, PA in the early 1950s, they were looking to redefine synagogue architecture. They took elements of the Jewish star, a translucent tent, and Mount Sinai, and combined them in a way Wright called “A House of Peace.” Nestled in the Philadelphia suburbs on the Old York Corridor, TBS was meant to be a beacon of hope to the new population of Jews moving out of the city. It was to be Wright’s only synagogue building (he died the year it was dedicated in 1959) and a landmark that influenced many other synagogue buildings including Temple Beth Zion on Delaware Avenue designed just afterward by renowned Jewish architect Max Abramovitz.
It is difficult to find a cohesive thread in synagogue architecture. Other than an ark to store Torahs, an eternal flame, and a large menorah, there are very few items that have stood the test of time. Which brings us to this week’s Torah portion, a double portion, Vayakhel-Pikudei, that concludes the Book of Exodus, and highlights the beauty and the craftsmanship of that first synagogue, a.k.a. the tabernacle. The famous architect of the time, Betzalel, builds and designs everything from the interior to the exterior, creating the vestments for the priests, and the curtains of goat hair. Leading to the moment of revelation near the end of Exodus, where Moses personally puts all of the key fixtures, the menorah, the altar, the Ten Commandments, in their proper place. What we are left with is a majestic space to worship God, but not one that could ever be fully replicated. In the Jewish historical experience, what should we use to design our synagogues? Sinai? The Promised Land? The Crossing of the Sea? The Torah is filled with so many goodies, we must pick and choose. The CSS Bima has the theme of the Burning Bush, a reminder of the quiet way we can encounter God. For Jews, this is a blessing and a curse. Our worship experience is not about the building at all. Jews can pray anywhere, at any time. That is the blessing. The curse is we have to recreate the experience of worship every generation. Thanks to Betzalel, Wright, and Abramovitz at least we have interesting choices.
p.s. – I would like to celebrate CSS’s architect George Pearlman who made a sanctuary that is warm, welcoming, and full of a glorious Jewish spirit.
Last updated: March 24, 2017 at 14:52 pm