Sunday, July 19, 2015

USA: Beachwood Ohio's Fairmount Temple is a Monument of Mid-20th-Century Jewish Design

 
Beachwood, Ohio. Fairmount Temple. Percival Goodman, arch. Photo: Samuel D. Gruber 2015

Beachwood, Ohio. Fairmount Temple. Percival Goodman, arch. Photo: Samuel D. Gruber 2015

Beachwood, Ohio. Fairmount Temple, entrance. Percival Goodman, arch., Abraham Rattner, artist. Photo: Samuel D. Gruber 2015

Beachwood, Ohio. Fairmount Temple, sanctuary. Percival Goodman, arch. Photo: Samuel D. Gruber 2015

USA: Beachwood Ohio's Fairmount Temple is a Monument of Mid-20th-Century Jewish Art and Architecture
by Samuel D. Gruber

If you are an admirer of Mid-Century Modern synagogue art and architecture - or are just merely curious - then Cleveland and the suburb of Beachwood, Ohio, are required stops. Two of the most splendid,  innovative and influential modern synagogues were built for Cleveland congregations in the early 1950s; designed by Eric Mendelsohn and Percival Goodman, the premier synagogue architects of the post-World War II era.

The German-born Mendelsohn designed the Park Synagogue, his late masterpiece,  for the Conservative congregation. Design began in 1946, and the synagogue was dedicated in 1953.  Soon after Mendelsohnbegan work, his younger American-born rival Percival Goodman was commissioned to design a large new home for the Reform Congregation Anshe Chesed, which decided to move from its impressive Euclid Avenue Temple at East 82nd and Euclid Avenue, dedicated in 1912. 

Congregation Anshe Chesed obtained a 32-acre parcel of land off Fairmount Boulevard  in Beachwood, just over the eastern border of the city, and area still new to Jews. The new facility, begun in 1951, was named the Fairmont Temple. It still serves a large and vibrant Reform congregation. The move wasn't easy. There was a protracted zoning battle opposed to Anshe Chesed's plans that went to the Ohio Supreme Court before the City of Beachwood approved the construction. Anshe Chesed’s Fairmount Temple was dedicated on May 31, 1957.

Beachwood, Ohio. An eagle soars above Fairmount Temple. Photo: Samuel D. Gruber 2015

I was recently in the Cleveland area lecturing, and was able to visit a few synagogues, as well as the excellent Maaltz Museum.  Unfortunately I did not revisit Park Synagogue in Cleveland Heights - as it is only open on Saturdays (I did visit the beautiful and more recent Park Synagogue East on Pepper Pike,, designed by Centerbrook Architects, but that is another story). But the time I spent at the Fairmount Temple was enough of a reward.  Goodman's designed chapel and sanctuary and  most of the original facility is well maintained and still close to the original appearance, including the rich array of modern religious art by post-war Jewish Jewish luminaries Abraham Rattner and Ibram Lassaw. Many other works of Judaica from the congregation's history are well displayed. These include liturgical objects as well as Jewish-themed Fine Art, such as Abraham, Isaac and the Angel by Elbert Weinberg, about whose Procession I recently wrote.  

 
Beachwood, Ohio. Fairmount Temple, entrance. Percival Goodman, arch., Abraham Rattner, artist. Photo: Samuel D. Gruber 2015

Like many of Goodman's designs, Fairmount Temple is enlivened with bold accents - often of jutting diagonal forms. Here, we first notice the zig-zag roof line, and coming closer we are greeted by a entrance porch pushing forward and upward, supported by brightly designed mosaic-covered piers, that  thicken as they rise to support the porch roof. Abstract artist Abraham Rattner designed the mosaics and the bright angular almost shard-like forms remind us of Rattner's work at the Chicago Loop Synagogue, where he designed the great stained glass window.  Inside Fairmount, Rattmer also created large decorations for the chapel though some of these are now displayed in the social hall. 

An open court of the original design has now covered, and it has been given a veneer of Jerusalem or Jerusalem-like white limestone. This space now serves as a large and main foyer.  The limestone is at odds with the simple beauty of Goodman's wood and brick surfaces, but these survive throughout much of the complex. The highlights of the interior are the small chapel and the large sanctuary, which demonstrate Goodman's capacity for intimacy and grandeur, but there is also much to enjoy in the small details and the arrangement of parts.

 Beachwood, Ohio. Fairmount Temple, chapel. Percival Goodman, arch., Abraham Rattner, artist.  Photo: Samuel D. Gruber 2015

The sanctuary is large, light and airy. The first impression is that the side walls are made of stained glass panels, but in fact the walls are a lattice of pastel painted colored panels, set at an angle, that filters the light from the alternating clear window panes. The only colored glass is found in rectangular panes set into the east wall above and around the Ark. The floor slopes gradually to the front, where the bimah rises in steps to a moderately high platform, with the pulpits and Ark visible to all.

 Beachwood, Ohio. Fairmount Temple, sanctuary. Percival Goodman, arch. Photo: Samuel D. Gruber 2015

 Beachwood, Ohio. Fairmount Temple, sanctuary. Percival Goodman, arch. Photo: Samuel D. Gruber 2015

Beachwood, Ohio. Fairmount Temple, sanctuary. Percival Goodman, arch. Photo: Samuel D. Gruber 2015

The Ark is a free-standing niche of white marble or polished limestone. A large bronze wing hovering over a beaten bronze orb (presumably the sun) t hat also serves as the ner tamid, sculpted by Ibram Lassaw, is applied to the valence of the Ark. The wing recalls the wings of the cherubim seated on the lid of the Ark of Covenant as described in Exodus. This single wing is a dramatic abbreviation, and it also can refer to the sheltering wing of a protecting God. The orb recalls other works of Lassaw for other synagogues, notably Beth El in Providence, and formerly in Tifereth Israel in Port Chester, New York (now in the Jewish Museum, NY)

Beachwood, Ohio. Fairmount Temple, bimah and Ark. Percival Goodman, arch. Photo: Samuel D. Gruber 2015
 
 Beachwood, Ohio. Fairmount Temple, Ark detail. Percival Goodman, arch., Ibram Lassaw, sculptor.  Photo: Samuel D. Gruber 2015

More relief sculptures by Lassaw adorn the sidewalls of the sanctuary, affixed just under the window level. These ten abstract designs suggest galaxies and stars and planets that relate to the sun on the Ark, and suggest a symbolic divinely created cosmos. They are, however, referred to as the  "Attributes of God," or ten sefirot, with names including "Creation," "Wisdom," and "Creativity." Did this iconography come form Lassaw?  In any case, these sculptures need to be considered in the literature of Kabbalah and art, along with contemporary work by Barnett Newman and a few others.

The rear wall of the sanctuary is a wall of doors that can be opened to expand the space to the social hall. But above the doors is a large west-facing window made to in the form of a grid-like mosaic.

 Beachwood, Ohio. Fairmount Temple, sanctuary view to rear wall. Percival Goodman, arch. Photo: Samuel D. Gruber 2015

 Beachwood, Ohio. Fairmount Temple, sanctuary rear wall. Percival Goodman, arch. Photo: Samuel D. Gruber 2015

  Beachwood, Ohio. Fairmount Temple, relief sculpture in sanctuary. Ibram Lassaw, artist.  Photo: Samuel D. Gruber 2015

 Beachwood, Ohio. Fairmount Temple, relief sculpture in sanctuary. Ibram Lassaw, artist.  Photo: Samuel D. Gruber 2015

 Beachwood, Ohio. Fairmount Temple, relief sculpture in sanctuary. Ibram Lassaw, artist.  Photo: Samuel D. Gruber 2015

Beachwood, Ohio. Fairmount Temple, relief sculpture in sanctuary. Ibram Lassaw, artist.  Photo: Samuel D. Gruber 2015

In the social hall. now affixed to the wall that connects to the sanctuary, are three large wall hangings designed by Abraham Rattner, originally form the chapel. I'll try to address the significance and meaning of these in a future post.

Beachwood, Ohio. Fairmount Temple, social hall. Abraham Rattner, artist.  Photo: Samuel D. Gruber 2015

 Beachwood, Ohio. Fairmount Temple, social hall. Abraham Rattner, artist.  Photo: Samuel D. Gruber 2015

Beachwood, Ohio. Fairmount Temple, social hall. Abraham Rattner, artist.  Photo: Samuel D. Gruber 2015

One of the virtues of Goodman's synagogue work is how often he was able to combine expressive form and Jewish modesty through the use of simple - even humble - materials. Fairmount Temple is no exception (I have previously written about this in the context of Beth El in Springfield, MA). . Most of the work is achieve with simple brick, finished plywood for doors and panels, and plaster for ceilings and walls. It is striking - and a a lesson in aesthetics - to compare one side of the lobby area with its original Goodman brick with the piers opposite-  which are clad in polished stone. The brickwork on the exterior, too, is quite good. Variations in shading of the brick is used t good effect to create indistinct patterns or perhaps to suggest the ever present variations of the natural world - even in a design and constricted building. 


 Beachwood, Ohio. Fairmount Temple, entrance hall. Note original brickwork on right and new stone on the left. .  Photo: Samuel D. Gruber 2015

 Beachwood, Ohio. Fairmount Temple, Exterior wall outside chapel, note excellent brickwork.  Photo: Samuel D. Gruber 2015

 Beachwood, Ohio. Fairmount Temple, Exterior wall outside chapel, note excellent brickwork.  Photo: Samuel D. Gruber 2015

For further reading:

Elman, Kimberly and Giral, Angela, eds, 2001. Percival Goodman: architect, planner, teacher, painter. Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Art Gallery. Columbia University, New York.

Goodman, Percival. "Modem Artists as Synagogue Builders. " Commentary, vol. 7, no.1, (January, 1949).



Goodman, Percival. "Worship and the Arts in the Jewish Tradition." Architectural Record, vol. 118, (December, 1955), pp. 170-171.



Guth, Douglas J., “Artful Jewish Artifacts of Northeast Ohio,” Cleveland Jewish News (Dec. 19, 2002)

“Vigorous Art in the Temple” in Architectural Forum 1959 May, v. 110, p. 140-145.


Sunday, July 12, 2015

Latvia: Death of Pioneering Researcher Meijers Melers (Meyer Meler)

 
 Meijers Melers at the Museum "Jews of Latvia." Photo: Samuel Gruber 2003

  Meijers Melers adding to his photo archive at the Rumbula Memorial outside Riga. Photo: Samuel Gruber 2003.

Latvia: Death of Pioneering Researcher Meijers Melers (Meyer Meler)
by Samuel D. Gruber

(ISJM) It is with sadness that I report the recent death of Meijers Melers (Meyer Meler), the premier researcher of Jewish cemeteries and mass grave sites in Latvia. Meijers Melers was born in 1929 and died April 25th at age 85.  Jewish heritage and Holocaust history was an unexpected second career for Melers. Trained as an engineer, he managed an electric power plan during the decades of Communist rule in Latvia. The fall of Communism and the reconstitution of an active Jewish community coincided with his retirement and Melers dedicated himself to locating and documenting Jewish cemeteries and mass grave sites throughout Latvia on behalf of the Jewish Community and the Museum "Jews of Latvia,"  which has posted an obituary on its website.

Fifteen years ago I got to know Meijers Melers on several trips to Latvia, during which time the U.S. Commission for the Preservation of America's Heritage Abroad was a sponsor of his survey research. The results of that work were published in a tr-lingual book Meler, Meyer, ed. Jewish Cemeteries in Latvia.  (Riga, Latvia: Riga Jewish Community - Museum Jews in Latvia, 2006. 133-134).  Then from 2007 to 2010 Melers assisted with four documentary expeditions in Latvia by the Center for Jewish Art of Hebrew University that collected further documentation on Jewish sites throughout the country, using Melers' work and experience as the starting point. In 2013, he published the 437-page Latvijas ebreju kopienas vēsture un holokausta piemiņas vietas about Holocaust-related sites in the country, and the Center for Jewish Art is presently preparing a publication about the synagogue of Latvia. 



 
  Meijers Melers at his Museum office. Photo: Samuel Gruber 2003

Melers personally visited all of the sites he identified in the country, and he described their condition and in many cases he organized efforts to protect these sites.  He was also always a warm and welcoming person, ready to show Jewish sites to visiting scholars and dignitaries. Though we did not share fluency in a common language, I remember his sense of humor - whcih could be both ironic and broad.

In recognition of his service to Latvia, in 2014 Meijers Melers  was decorated with the country's highest civil award, the Order of Three Stars. He has left a important legacy. His dedication is inspirational, and demonstrates the great contribution a single individual can make to Jewish history and Holocaust commemoration, or any common good, even as a life's second act.

May his memory be blessed.


Thursday, July 9, 2015

USA: Burlington Mural to be Unveiled on August 2, 2015

 Burlington, Vermont. Chai Adam Synagogue mural arriving at its new home at Ohavi Zedek Synagogue, May 6, 2015. Photo courtesy of Ohavi Zedek Synagogue

USA: Burlington Mural to be Unveiled on August 2, 2015
by Samuel D Gruber
 
(ISJM) The early 20th century synagogue mural in Burlington, Vermont, recovered from a former synagogue turned apartment building, was successfully moved to its new home at Ohavi Zedek Synagogue on May 6, 2015. I posted about preparations for the move last March.  The mural was moved in May. The mural will be unveiled in its new location in a ceremony on the evening of August 2, 2015.

You can watch a short film documenting the move here:
https://www.cctv.org/watch-tv/programs/moving-lost-shul-mural-tour 

In the end the move only took a few hours - but all the technical details and conservation challenges took over a year to work out.

Work on this project is far from over.  Though conservation and cleaning work took place at the original site in the year before the move, additional cleaning and infill of damaged parts will take place over the coming year. The exact extent of paint infill has yet to be determined. Originally the plan called for restoring the mural at least to the 1986 condition, which was fully documented. This decision will be reviewed by the history, art and conservation team before new work begins.

As importantly, the Project is now beginning work on an exhibition and education component that is intended to provide extensive information - much of it online - about the the history, art, architecture, and communities of Jewish Lithuania and Burlington; a detailed history of the making and conservation of the mural; further information about the immigrant experience in Burlington and elsewhere; and the materials related to the Holocaust in Lithuania.  The intent is also to provide materials and information useful for new research and to be used for study and teaching. 

The Lost Shul Project has raised over $400,000 so far from hundreds of donors. Almost all the money has gone to conservation and moving costs.  Funds are still needed for further conservation and restoration and for the educational components. Contributions can be made on the www.lostshulmural.org website or can be arranged through Ohiavi Zedek Synagogue.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Serbia: Monument and Book for Jews of Šid

Šid, Serbia. Holocaust Memorial. Photo: Jewish Historical Museum Belgrade.

Monument to Jewish Victims of Holocaust Unveiled in Šid, Serbia
by Samuel D. Gruber

[n.b. this post was revised on June 12, 2015 to include new information]
 
(ISJM) Summer is season of monuments, but I failed to report the creation of a new memorial in the Serbian town of Šid last winter. No Jews live in Šid now; most of the community was killed in the Holocaust. According to a report from the Jewish Historical Museum in Belgrade, local citizens led by Radovan Sremac, curator and archaeologist, recently began an effort to commemorate those victims, and this work culminated in the dedication of a marble monument on December 17, 2014. Financial help for the monument came from Israeli Association of Jews from Former Yugoslavia, and the project was undertaken under the auspices of the Šid National Library, its director Slavica Varničić, and the municipal  authorities of Šid.  

You can read more about the dedication and see pictures here.

In March, a new book, Jews of Šid  written by Mr. Sremac and including research by Holocaust survivor Emil Milan Klein, who died in 2004, was published documenting the history and destruction of the community.

The unpretentious white marble monument has a light grey, slightly inclined  marble  memorial board on which a gold-colored Magen David is placed between commemorative text in Serbian and the Hebrew. The monument is located next to the Šid National Library

Serbia, like the rest of the former Soviet Yugoslavia, was known for a series of magnificent modern expressive monuments erected during the years of rule by Josip Broz Tito, commemorating anti-fascist partisans and martyrs. Many of these sites have fallen into disrepair. Few monuments, however, then or now deal specifically with the fate of the Jewish communities of the region. The Burning Menorah sculpture by Nandor Glid was installed in Belgrade in 1990 as a memorial to the approximately 9,000 of the city's Jews who were murdered in Belgrade or deported to their deaths. There is also a monument in Novi Sad near the Danube commemorating
the 1,246 citizens – men, women, and children –  murdered by combined Hungarian gendarmerie and army on January 23, 1942. 

In 2006 a commemorative plaque was installed in Belgrade at the site of the former deportation and death camp "Topovske Supe," the first transit camp set up in Serbia by Nazis and their Serbian collaborators in August 1941, and where thousands of Jews were murdered. That modest memorial is in the form of a bronze Torah scroll, and inscribed on the scroll is a brief history of the camp, in Serbian, Hebrew and English (photos here). Every day Jewish men detained at the camp were taken by their German captors to be shot. Many of these victims were taken to Jabuka, a village near Pancevo, where a large monument to "
fallen fighters and victims of fascism" is dedicated. Jabuka was also the place of execution of many Jews brought from Belgrade's Sajmiste concentration Camp, too.

In 2013 the future of the Topovske Supe site was debated, as plans for a shopping mall by a developer were presented and these received international attention. In the end, widespread opposition to the plan seems to have put an end to this project, but it will be important to keep an eye on this site and others like it in the region to ensure respectful protection, preservation and commemoration.

The Jewish community of Serbia and Montenegro has advocated for many years that more Jewish heritage and Holocaust-related sites be marked. Detailed surveys and planning for Jewish heritage and Holocaust-related sites in Serbia (as has been done in Slovenia and Bosnia) began more than a decade ago, but need updating and promotion. A summary list of sites in Serbia can be found here at jewish-heritage-europe.eu.

The most important Holocaust Memorial site in the former Yugoslavia is the Jasenovic Concentration Camp in Croatia. That site was established by the Croatian Ustaša regime (the so-called Independent State of Croatia) and is infamous as the place of death of large numbers of ethnic Serbs, Jews, and Roma, as well as Croatian anti-fascists. The site was restored and renovated from 1995 to 2004, following the destructive Balkan Wars. There was talk of strengthening the narrative about and commemoration of the Jewish victims at Jasenovic, most of whom came from Serbia, but critics tell me that the new presentation actually lessens the presentation of the barbarities inflicted on Serbs, Jews, Roma and other victims. (Readers take note - if you have been to Jasenovic and would like to report back, let me know).

A Holocaust Memorial Museum was opened in Skopje, Republic of Macedonia in 2011.

There are still active Jewish communities in many of the larger cities of the former Yugoslavia, and there are Jewish or synagogue museums of various types in Belgrade (Serbia), Sarajevo (Bosnia) and Dubrovnik (Croatia) and elsewhere.

Since the dissolution of Yugoslavia, however, the strength of the Jewish community in the region has been greatly diminished, as the community was forced to splinter and divide its limited financial and human resources. While the Jewish communities of the former Yugoslavia try to maintain a cooperative relationship, each small community is increasingly engaged in its own local affairs. This means, too, that there is no longer a consistent regional program for the protection and preservation of Jewish heritage sites, and the commemoration of Jewish communities.