Over the next month most of us will spend more time in the synagogue than during the rest of the year. In addition to “teshuva, tefila and tzedaka,” the High Holidays are prime-time for pondering and feeling inspired by the design and creation of your synagogue’s furnishings.
Many asked why G-d needed a Mishkan (Tabernacle) after the Exodus. How could any structure, from a tent in the desert to King Herod’s architectural wonder, be a house of The infinite Creator? Chazal pointed to the significance of the menorah, the kruvim of the aron kodesh, etc.of the Mishkan and the Temple as symbols for inspiring people with the spirit of G-d’s mercy and social justice: the house of worship is a metaphor for building a “permanent dwelling” in the hearts of Am Israel.
On a comparative not, anthropomorphic symbolism found in non-Jewish temples offers a richer environment to express both human and divine worlds. Seeing dramatizations of angels, demons and even G-d himself in pictures and sculptures has more dramatic impact than the modest symbolism prevalent in Judaism. (I heard of a young Jewish child who visited a European church with her family. She turned to her parents and asked, “Wow! Why is there a picture of Moshe Rabbeinu in the middle of the ceiling?)
Doing More with Less
Synagogue architecture and furnishings must teach the eternal values of Jewish tradition with fewer design elements. Whether you are looking at museum quality silver fittings in Gibraltar or Rococo gilded carving in Florence- or a simple wooden closet for an aron kodesh, they all are designed to focus worshipers on what really matters, their communal and personal relationships with the Creator.
Some themes and expressions have become standard, even over-used and uninspiring. However, beginning with the old Betzalel School, artist began to make bold statements with their modern interpretations of timeless themes, even incorporating archaeological discoveries from the Temple periods.
More and more truly creative artists are making outstanding synagogue furnishings and Judaica in Israel and abroad. Their usage of exotic materials and modern technology has breathed new life into synagogue design and can be found in out-of-the-way places to the highest profile synagogues.
Restorno is active in synagogue renovation and preservation. The Mercaz HaRav Yeshiva in Jerusalem recently commissioned us to reconstruct the aron kodesh. We replaced the inferior materials used in the 1970’s with mahogany veneered panels across and a seven meter high by five meter wide wall. This massive wall is decorated only by brass plaques of the letters of the Ten Commandments. Rather than leaving it as a passive monument, our re-interpretation of this design was to place golden LED lighting behind the plaques, so the brilliant light illuminates through the letters, broadcasting the commandments with light. Everyone agreed that we both preserved AND improved the original simple but elegant design.
Another more original creation was this bima, made from solid cherry and mahogany, again simple and elegant.
Restorno built an innovative extension to the existing bima of the Alon Shvut synagoge that is hidden from view when not in use, but opens to permit wheelchair access for kriat hatorah.
Chazal emphasized that we renew the spiritual tora in our physical world all the time, especially on the High Holidays. If your synagogue furnishings need restoration or reupholstery, turn to Restorno.
We wish all of our readers a Shana Tova.