Step into our sanctuary and you’re enveloped by a breathtaking room with soaring ceiling, continuous red brick walls, and warm gold carpeting reminiscent of the desert sand of Sinai. Designed by noted architect Vincent G. Kling and completed in 1972, this oasis includes two glorious key features: the Ner Tamid—Eternal Light—and our award-winning Ark designed by the late Hungarian architect Mark Zubar. The Ark is fashioned entirely of brass and stained glass. Its brilliant oranges, yellows, and reds, angled upward, evoke flames against the brick and glass wall behind. Elevated rows of 12 Stars of David, symbolizing the Twelve Tribes of Israel, lend further artistic Jewish metaphor while at the back, interspersed among the pieces of bold stained glass, 10 small circles of opaque glass represent the Ten Commandments. Also formed of glass and brass, the Eternal Light, suspended at the front of the bimah, shimmers an array of hues.The light is signified through glass cut into flamelike shapes that irregularly jut out of the brass fixture. Above the flames of the Eternal Light, Stars of David are etched in black into the concrete ceiling creating a powerful image of the symbols of the Jewish faith. At once lovely and soothing, the Molish Sanctuary is the heart of Old York Road Temple-Beth Am.
An integral part of the Evelyn and Ronald A. Krancer Center for Jewish Life, dedicated in 2008, the Temple Beth Torah Chapel provides flexible space for prayer and special activities such as Tots-N-Torah, adult and family education programs, family celebrations and Torah yoga. The original Aron Ha Kodesh – Holy Ark – from Temple Beth Torah’s building on Welsh Road is the centerpiece of the room. The Ner Tamid – Eternal Light – was designed by New York artist David Klass. Above the Ark, the words Da Lifnei Mi Atah Omed — Know Before Whom You Stand — remind us that we stand before God when we pray, and recall the scene described in Exodus when Moses appeared before God at the burning bush. The Ark is flanked by a pair of original Temple Beth Torah seven-branched menorahs, signifying the seven days of the week. Celebrations that took place at Temple Beth Torah are recalled with leaves on the Etz Chayim—Tree of Life—on the side wall near the entrance. In addition, the original panels that appeared on Beth Am’s chuppah – wedding canopy – needlepointed by volunteers from Sisterhood, are framed and mounted, quoting biblical love poetry: Ani l’dodi v’dodi li – “I am my beloved’s and my beloved is mine.” (Song of Songs)
The intimate space of the Klein Chapel, located on the lower level, features warm brick, soft lighting, and magnificent vibrant tapestries created by celebrated Israeli artist Bracha Lavee that interpret prominent biblical themes. The adjacent lobby area looks out onto a beautiful inner courtyard, enjoyed throughout the changing seasons. The Klein Chapel was dedicated to honor the memory of Adolf and Jeane Klein in 1976.
“In the creation of the world, the Holy One began with the act of planting, as it says: And God planted a garden in Eden (Genesis 2:8), and so too when you enter the Land of Israel, you shall first plant” (Leviticus 19:23). Midrash Leviticus Rabbah 25:3
The entrance of the synagogue’s Evelyn and Ronald A. Krancer Center for Jewish Life is graced by the Saltzman Family Biblical Garden, whose offerings include a variety of plants named in Torah as native to the Land of Israel. The garden was created by award-winning landscape designers Burke Brothers, led by congregant Kevin Burke. It contains a number of interesting architectural features: a water element, a series of teak benches, a pergola/grape arbor, a Magen David (Star of David), and a stone pulpit/podium.
Water: “God said to Moses, ‘Assemble the people that I may give them water.’ Then Israel sang this song: Spring up, O well – sing to it.” (Numbers 21:16-17).
Water is an important symbol in Judaism—the source of life; the medium of birth, death, and immortality; and the reservoir of wisdom. During their 40-year journey through the desert, the Israelites were sustained by water from Miriam’s well. Additionally, our Torah is often referred to as “mayim chayim,” living waters. Our garden’s water feature is surrounded by eye-catching annual plants and attracts assorted beautiful birds. It welcomes congregants and their guests while highlighting the importance of water in our biblical narrative.
Four teak benches grace our garden and provide a place for visitors to relax and savor their stunning surroundings. Each bench is engraved with the individual names of the Saltzman Family donors. The number four is significant, as it has always been associated with the earth and its rhythms: four corners, four seasons, four directions, four winds, and four elements. In the Torah, the Israelites were commanded to gather four species of plants as part of their celebration of Sukkot: lulav (palm), myrtle, willow, and etrog.
The pergola/grape arbor reminds us that grapes constitute a vital part of Israel’s economy, both in ancient and modern times. As the third of the seven species representing the Land of Israel, grapes are traditionally eaten on the holiday of Tu B’Shevat, which celebrates the reawakening of agricultural life after winter dormancy. The giant grape cluster requiring two men to lift it (Numbers 13:23) is a popular motif of Israel’s productivity.
The Star of David (Magen David) is the most universally recognized symbol of the Jewish People. In The Star of Redemption (1921), Franz Rosenzweig frames his philosophy of Judaism around the image of the Jewish Star, composed of two conceptual triads, which together form the basis of Jewish belief: Creation, Revelation, and Redemption; God, Torah and Israel.
The stone pulpit/podium placed near the Magen David creates an area where intimate life cycle events or prayer services can be conducted. On clear summer Friday evenings, the congregation gathers in the garden for Kiddush and Motzi.
Three generations of the Saltzman Family dedicated the Biblical Garden in October 2009.
The garden inspired the creation of an adjacent mosaic mural, made of thousands of individual glass and ceramic pieces. The mosaic took hundreds of hours of painstaking work by 11 volunteers (congregants and community members); it was designed by our congregant Suzanne Borow Rubin. Sandi Young co-chaired this intensive labor of love. Depicting the seven species named in Torah, the design includes a seven-branched tree representing a menorah. Dates, olives, grapes, figs, and pomegranates are surrounded by wheat and barley. Tones of blue, the image of a lake, underscore the vital role water plays in the continuity of life.
Above the tree appears a dove, symbolic of the peace for which we yearn. A dragonfly and butterflies frolic in the garden. A three-dimensional spider with legs crafted of bent nails reminds us of Rabbi Harold B. Waintrup z”l, whose love of baseball led to his nickname of “Spider” Waintrup. Small flowers are made from shards of china, contributed by congregants. Stones at the base of the wall were gathered by Rabbi Robert Leib at Mount Herzl in Jerusalem, providing another connection to the Land of Israel. The mosaic was unveiled to the congregation prior to Selichot services in September 2012.
Helping to keep the promise to Zachor – “Remember” – our Holocaust Memorial honors the memory of our congregants’ family members who perished in the Shoah – “the Holocaust.” Located in the inner courtyard, the memorial was dedicated on November 9, 2010, the 72nd anniversary of Kristallnacht – “The Night of Broken Glass.” It provides a quiet, sheltered place for contemplation and private prayer.
Designed by David Klass, a New York based artist and metallurgist, the memorial is a fitting tribute to our martyred brethren who perished in the Nazi Holocaust. The names and locations of concentration camps and killing fields remind us of the gargantuan reach of the Nazis throughout Europe. The Hebrew word Yizkor – “Remember” – appears in a vertical formation of blood-red stained glass letters surrounded by ominous hues of dark blue/grey. Six symbolic glass lights represent the six million who perished in the Shoah; they are secured to the parallel metal that symbolizes the railroad tracks leading to, and barbed wire of, the death camps.
The text of the famous poem The Butterfly further heightens the power of the memorial. Its author, Pavel Friedmann, was born in Prague on January 7, 1921. He was deported to Terezin on April 26, 1942 and later to Auschwitz, where he died on September 29, 1944. Metallic butterflies “fly” from the memorial toward the adjacent butterfly garden.
Congregants Jerry Brill z”l, and his son Robert dedicated the memorial in loving memory of their wife and mother, Myrna Brill z”l.
the Jews of Louny, Svĕtlá nad Sázavou and Tábor, Czechoslovakia
Jews had lived in the towns and villages of Moravia and Bohemia since the late 10th century, thriving in vibrant communities in spite of various forms of persecution. During the 19th century, they gradually became emancipated and civil equality was granted. Unfortunately, that ended with the Nazi occupation following the Munich Agreement of 1938. The Jewish population of Bohemia and Moravia was virtually annihilated between 1939 and 1945, over 77,000 or approximately 84.8% of their numbers murdered. According to the Encyclopedia Judaica: “6,392 had died in Theresienstadt, 64,172 had been murdered in the extermination camps and of the Jews who had not been deported, 5,201 had either been executed, committed suicide, or died a natural death. On the day of the restoration of national sovereignty in Prague (the Prague Uprising,) May 5, 1945, there were 2,803 Jews alive in Bohemia and Moravia who had not been deported, most of them partners of mixed marriages.
After the start of Jewish deportations, a group of Jews at the Jewish Museum in German-occupied Prague submitted a plan to the Nazis to save the precious objects in the synagogues by bringing them to the museum to be catalogued and preserved. We will never know the real reason the Nazis agreed to this plan, but transport companies were given permission to bring Torah Scrolls, religious treasures in gold, silver and textile, along with historic archives and thousands of books from over 100 synagogues, to Prague. More than 100,000 items were eventually received by the newly-named Central Jewish Museum. The Germans were defeated and the Torah scrolls were safe. But unfortunately, after less than three years of Czech freedom, the Communists staged a coup and took over the government, the revival of Jewish life was stifled, and the Prague Jewish Museum came under government control. Hundreds of rescued Torah scrolls languished as state property.
On a visit to Prague in 1963, Eric Estorick, an American art dealer living in London, was asked by a state official if he would like to buy some Torah Scrolls. At the Michle Synagogue he saw wooden racks holding about 1800 Scrolls. He returned to London and contacted a fellow American, Ralph Yablon, who in turn contacted his rabbi, Rabbi Harold Reinhart, of the Westminster Synagogue, and offered to put up the money to buy the Scrolls. After their authenticity and condition were verified, an offer was made for the purchase. Two trucks crammed with 1564 Torah Scrolls arrived at the Westminster Synagogue in February and March of 1964, and the Memorial Scrolls Trust was established to oversee their care, restoration and allocation to synagogues around the world. Old York Road Temple – Beth Am is privileged to hold three of these sacred Scrolls, from the towns of Tábor, Louny and Svetlá nad Sázavou.
Czech Memorial Scroll Dedication
Before World War II, Tábor, located about 75 miles SSE of Prague, was a calm, countrified town without much industry, surrounded by a beautiful hilly and wooded landscape, where Jews had been living since 1594. There were many Jewish-owned businesses in the town, with a synagogue, a rabbi, a cantor, a shochet and a shammas serving the Jewish community, even though many identified themselves more as Czechs than Jews. But they were Jews, and the Nazi occupation brought difficult changes to their lives: they had to wear the yellow star and obey a curfew; they had to sit at the back of buses and ride in the last car of trains. They could only shop from 4-5pm, and their ration books, marked with a big “J”, had few coupons and many restrictions. They were barred from school and prevented from talking to non-Jews. Then, in November 1942 a transit camp with 1267 Jews, including many Jews from distant towns, was created in Tábor. Shortly thereafter, the Nazis began transporting Tabor’s Jews to Terezin and farther east, and within months had eradicated the entire community. After the War, some Jews returned and attempted to revive the congregation, but there was only a small group using a prayer room, and even that ended in 1972. The synagogue, once a beautiful landmark but long abandoned, was torn down in 1977 and replaced with a parking lot. Although there is a plaque commemorating the site of the synagogue, monuments on the sites of the old and new Jewish cemeteries, and annual observances of Tábor’s Jewish past, today you could not even make a minyan in Tábor.
Our synagogue’s Czech Memorial Scroll number 1138 is from Tábor. In the more than 100 years since it was first lovingly written by a Czech Jewish scribe, it has witnessed some of the worst inhumanity the world has ever known, and it has witnessed great joy. One joyous event was the erev-Shabbat service on Friday evening, April 6, 1973, when it was dedicated by Rabbi Harold Waintrup of blessed memory, and the members of Old York Road Temple – Beth Am. Today it still continues to forge the chain of Jewish life l’dor v’dor, from one generation to another.
Memorial Scrolls Trust Scroll no.1060, from Louny, came to Old York Road Temple – Beth Am in 1973, carried by Rabbi Harold Waintrup aboard a flight from London. Louny, a town in the Czech Republic founded in 12th century, is roughly 35 miles northwest of Prague. Jews have a long history in Louny, and are first mentioned in 1254 as living on a Jewish street and having a synagogue and a cemetery. The city records for 1380–92 contained a special section for Jewish lawsuits. In 1505, Jews lived mostly in the eastern part on Židovská (Jewish) street in a small ghetto consisting of 12 houses, a school and prayer chapel. In the city record books we can find the names of eight prominent Jews. As elsewhere in Europe, Jewish life in Louny was sometimes chaotic and sometimes, peaceful. In the 16th and 17th centuries, Jews were periodically expelled from Louny, only to be allowed back again because the town needed their financial help. In 1803, Gabriel Taussig built a synagogue, and in 1860 the Louny Jewish Community was officially established. Jews from surrounding communities moved to Louny, and in 1871 they built a new synagogue, which the Old York Road Temple – Beth Am group led by Rabbi Leib visited in April 2013 as part of its Central Europe tour. The community flourished in the second half of the 19th century and included doctors, businessmen, and lawyers. Tragedy befell Louny’s Jewish community in WWII. The entire community was deported to the Nazi death camps in 1942, and the synagogue’s religious items were sent to the Central Jewish Museum in Prague. The Jewish community in Louny disappeared. The synagogue was rented out as a workshop and is currently used as the municipal archive.
There are no Jews in Louny today. However, the synagogue remains with a Jewish star on its handsome iron entrance gate, the Ten Commandments on the facade above the door, and a faded Magen David is visible on the ceiling. The 2013 Beth Am visit sensitized Louny’s Mayor, Radovan Sabata, to the history of Jews in Louny. And on June 23, 2014, the townspeople, led by their Mayor, along with representatives
of the Federation of Jewish Communities of the Czech Republic and the Kehila of Teplice, a neighboring town that still has a vibrant Jewish community, held an impressive prayer ceremony in Louny to celebrate 600 years of Jewish presence in the region. They placed a plaque on the outside wall of the synagogue commemorating the lost Jews of Louny, with the inscription. “In memory of the citizens of our city who were victims of the Holocaust 1939-1945.”]
Svetlá nad Sázavou
It was with great joy that in 2004 our Old York Road Temple-Beth Am merged with Temple Beth Torah and their “Little Torah from Svetlá” joined our two Czech Memorial Scrolls. Its history like the others is tragic, in this case mirroring the stories of the martyred Jews of Svetlá nad Sázavou. As far back as the 17th century there was a Jewish presence in that small town bordering Bohemia and Moravia, today part of the Czech Republic. By 1930, the last official count, they numbered 79 men, women and children who worshipped in a small synagogue on the river and would be buried one day in the Jewish cemetery nearby. But the end of their world was imminent. On the eve of the signing of the Munich Agreement, September 30, 1938, the Jews of Svetlá celebrated an impromptu service in the little synagogue on the river. Herbert Morawetz, the son of their most prominent citizen, held the little Torah and chanted the blessing in Svetlá for the last time. On June 13, 1942, 55 of their Jews were taken by the Nazis to Terezin to die there or in other concentration camps. The Jews of Svetlá were no more.
Miraculously, their Torah survived. The Confirmation Class of 1982 raised the money to adopt “The Little Torah from Svetlá” in honor of their beloved Rabbi Bernard Frank. It journeyed from a small village in Czechoslovakia to London, from London to Temple Beth Torah in Northeast Philadelphia and finally to an honored place in the holy ark of the Temple Beth Torah Chapel of Old York Road Temple-Beth Am in Abington, Pennsylvania. While the Little Torah has played an important role in the spiritual life of our community, there was no marker in Svetlá to honor the Jews who cherished it. We hope to close the circle on June 21, 2016, when representatives of the Federation of Jewish Communities of the Czech Republic; Jan Tourek, Mayor of Svetlá nad Sázavou; and congregants of Old York Road Temple-Beth Am, dedicate a plaque in memory of the citizens of Svetlá who were victims of the Holocaust. It is a story with no end; L’dor v’dor, from generation to generation assuring that the Jews of Svetlá will never be forgotten.
More information about the Holocaust history of Bohemia and Moravia, our towns, their Torahs, and their hundreds of Holocaust victims can be found in the program book for our November 2, 2014 memorial and rededication program.