Sadness during the Three Weeks

This has been an emotionally complicated week.

Last Friday my sister sent me an email telling me that Temple Beth El in Quincy was being knocked to the ground.

When my father agreed to serve as Rabbi in Quincy the synagogue was not yet built. Those first High Holidays in 1957, services were held in the Jewish Community  Center just down the street in Merrymount.  services were held in an L-shaped room so only half of the congregation could see services being led.

 

Apparently a Chinese restaurant shared a wall with the back of the JCC and  the aroma of Chinese food cooking made Neila, the final service of Yom Kippur excruciating for the worshipers in the back rows.

 

From 1958 until the early 1960’s the sanctuary was a plain mustard colored cement block box with mustard colored drapes and linoleum floors.

This would not do for my father. My father had, during his time in Halifax worked on beautifying that synagogue and helped the congregation acquire spectacular Torah silver. ( If you are ever in Halifax for Shabbat I strongly suggest that you attend services at Shaar Shalom. It is a very special place.)

 

My father had seen the work of David Holleman while he was in rabbinical school.Mr. Holleman had a studio on Huron street in Cambridge. The two of them began a collaboration that lasted decades.

 

My father was determined to avoid hackneyed stereotypes common to most synagogue design. There not going to be a whole lot of Magen Davids. the verses chosen would be thoughtful and thought provoking.I remember models of various elements of the design showing up at our house.

There were times when my father would totally reject a proposal set forth by Mr. Holleman. I always felt terrible and hoped that Mr. Holleman’s feelings would not get hurt.

 

Eventually the two would settle on a design. My father would line up a donor from the congregation to foot  the bill.

 

Quincy never had a huge Jewish population. Generally when one thinks of Jewish community in the Boston area, one does NOT think about Quincy a great center of Jewish life. And yet, Temple Beth El in Quincy was one of the most successful examples of visually powerful and meaningful Post –war suburban synagogue design. It was a jewel box.

Walking into the sanctuary could just take your breath away. The room worked as a complete unit telling a complete story. It was also compelling as a piece of art week after week year after year. While you could take in the big story of the room fairly quickly there were always new details that revealed themselves over time.

You can see some pictures here in this essay Temple Beth El.

I knew that the land had been sold and the membership of Temple Beth El was joining forces with the synagogue in Milton, one town away. But last week the building was being knocked down.

I saw the following images on Facebook.

Bulldozed

View from the parking lot

Another view from the parking lot

Seeing these images was deeply distressing. A friend commented to me that I need to think of the destruction of my father’s synagogue, his life’s work in the context of the Jewish calendar. We are now in the mourning period of three weeks that precede Tisha B’av, the day we mark the destruction of the Temple.

Some of the treasure from Temple Beth El are now in other homes in the Boston area.  The windows though will be part of the collection of the Skirball Museum at Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati.

 

There will be a celebration at the end of August to make this acquisition.

 

Today, I received this in the mail.

 Holleman 001

The official invitation to the celebration. Yes, my husband and I are going. One of my sisters will be there as well.

 

So now, I actually feel less distressed about the physical building now being a pile of rubble.

Comments

  1. This gives a big insight into how you work the way you do. I am so sorry all this creativity is not left in the place it was made to inhabit, but I am glad there is a little hope for the future. I hope that the windows at least will inspire future generations of artists in similar ways.
    Sandy

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  2. Sarah, Thank you for sharing the beauty of those windows!

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  3. Sandy, you are exactly right. I was lucky to see the process of how one creates a meaningful piece of Jewish art. I heard the conversations between my father and Mr. Holleman from the time I was teeny. During those years my father used to talk about the ideas he was trying to convey in each of the pieces. Those conversations have certainly formed how I go about designing my work.

    I was also fortunate to grow up looking at those windows, and the mosaics week after week. I learned by spending so many hours being surrounded by that work how to keep the eye interested in something even after constant exposure to it. By breaking up each surface into multiple shards of color week after week you could take in the windows and the mosaics in a new way.

    Shari, so glad you enjoyed seeing the windows.

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  4. Our shul in Chicago was a utilitarian building, sanctuary in the basement with plain walls and small windows high up.I wonder now why they built it that way. How lovely beautiful glass would have been!
    My boys grew up in NM with a cinderblock shul. They loved to go to Chicago and see the ornate churches and synagogues. (We had to explain to them why there was one synagogue per block in Skokie...)

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  5. Shari -

    In order to have a beautiful synagogue you need both someone with vision, like my father and Mr. Holleman who together were able to provide that in Quincy, as well as people who are willing to give the money to make that vision a reality.it was the generosity of the members of Temple Beth El who gave with open hearts and open hands combined with the vision and artistic skill that made Temple Beth El so beautiful. We have all seen synagogues that have been decorated with money and no taste, or no real sense of Jewish meaning...We have also all seen synagogues that are as bare as barns.

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