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Pillar of strength
Temple B’rith Sholom conveys a sense of fortitude to the community

Steeped in tradition, Temple B'rith Sholom's roots go 150 years deep into the community. The congregation's first temple was on Fifth Street, and the present location was built in 1916.

The neo-classical style was typical of the architecture of that time, and synagogues and temples were historically built in the prevailing architecture of the time. Rabbi Michael Datz said the solid architecture of the temple is meant to make a statement both to the community and to the congregation.

"It (the architectural style) speaks to the confidence that the congregation has in the community," he said.

The German reform movement in the early 1800s meant changes to the traditional temple architecture, which included elements of a church.

Temple B'rith Sholom has an organ as well as a choir loft, and men and women sit together. Mingling of the sexes during prayer is not permitted in strict Orthodox congregations. It is permitted in Reform congregations, and temple president Mary Beth Cohen remembers sitting with her family staring up at the stained glass skylight area under the imposing dome area of the roof.

The color scheme of the windows in the temple are done in a sort of smoked motif similar to Tiffany glass. While traditional stained-glass windows in churches tell a story or make an allegorical point, the windows in the temple lend an ambiance and match the muted earth tones of the sanctuary. Figures are generally not used on stained glass windows in temples.

All temples contain a Torah Ark and a table or raised platform from which the Torah is read. The ark is situated so those who face it are turned toward Jerusalem. The ark is closed off with a curtain or tapestry called a parochet. At Temple B'rith Sholom, a heavy, woven tapestry with a bright pattern covers the ark, which is an architectural indentation and the main focal point of the sanctuary.

Above the ark is the ner tamid, or eternal light, that is a reminder of the menorah of the Temple of Jerusalem that is always lighted. The style of the ner tamid at B'rith Sholom matches the decorative light fixtures. Datz said when he had to spend some time in the choir loft, he noticed the decorative copper rings around the lights have small menorahs on them made by punching out the metal, and glimmers of light come through the menorahs.

Tradition dictates that the Torah scrolls are kept in the ark veiled by a curtain. The scrolls themselves, which are not touched directly with a hand, are robed in fabric called the "Mantle of Law." The fabric is decorated with ornate metal pieces called breastplates.

Similar to breastplates on armor, the breastplates on the fabric are symbolic protection for the scrolls. The Torah scrolls are stored vertically, and on the upper ends of the scroll handles or rollers is a beaten silver or gilded crown-shaped object called a kesser.

According to tradition, the protections on the scrolls as well as other traditional ornamentations for the temple are donated by congregation members to mark a special occasion or honor the memory of a loved one.

This donation is considered a mitzvah, or act of kindness. A mitzvah might also be the donation of a Judaic relic. Temple B'rith Sholom has an interesting collection, including a community wedding ring.

Sadly, the temple was burglarized some years back, said Cohen, and not all of the temple's collection was recovered.

Near each of the doors into the sanctuary, there are mezzuzahs. Small containers made of wood, plastic or metal, the mezzuzah has a piece of parchment with an important passage from the Torah. Mezzuzahs are nailed to the doorpost and some homes have one in every doorway.

Datz said he wouldn't describe the temple sanctuary as grand. "The space has a nice feel; it has a warmth and intimacy to it," he said. While tradition dictates the placement of items in most places of worship, it is the congregation that warms the space with its faith and respect for those traditions. 


Story published Friday, September 4, 2009 ( Volume 4, Number 5 )

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