Monday, February 9, 2015

International Survey of Jewish Monuments at College Art Association


ISJM @ CAA @ NYC

(International Survey of Jewish Monuments at College Art Association)
 All welcome, no conference registration needed


Thursday, February 12, 2015, 12:30-2:00 p.m.

Hilton New York, 3rd Floor, West Ballroom

1335 Avenue of the Americas (54th St), New York 

Jamaican Jewish gravestone revealed. Photo: Emma Lewis 2015.

Trends and New Initiatives in Jewish Heritage Documentation and Preservation


“Review of Recent Jewish Heritage Initiatives”

Samuel D. Gruber, Gruber Heritage Global


"Jamaican Jewish Cemeteries: On the Ground and in the Cloud"
Rachel Frankel, AIA & Joseph M deLeon


Discussion and Reports from the Floor

**********

N.B. At the conference that morning is the session:


Time: 02/12/2015, 9:30 AM—12:00 PM Location: Hilton New York, 2nd Floor, Madison Suite

[Entry for registered conferecne participants only. Single session registration is available.]


Chair: Mohammad Gharipour, Morgan State University


Decorating Synagogues in the Western Islamic World: The Role of Sephardi Traditionalism
Vivian B. Mann, The Jewish Theological Seminary


Tracing the Four Column Tevah Synagogue Type in Ottoman Lands
Samuel D. Gruber, International Survey of Jewish Monuments


Synagogues of the Fez Mellah: Constructing Sacred Spaces in Nineteenth-Century Morocco Michelle H. Craig, independent scholar


The Architecture and Décor of the Synagogues of Tangier: Modernization and Internationalization of the Jewish Community
Mitchell Serels

Monday, February 2, 2015

Happy Birthday Nathan Myers (b. Feb 2 1875, Newark, NJ)

Newark, NJ. B’nai Abraham Synagogue. Nathan Myers, arch (1922-24). Photo: Samuel D. Gruber 2008

Elizabeth, NJ, Hersch Tower. Nathan Myers with Joseph Sanford Stanley, arch (1931). Photo: Wikipedia

Happy Birthday Nathan Myers (b. Feb 2 1875, Newark, NJ)
by Samuel D. Gruber 

Today is the 140th birthday a talented Newark-based Jewish architect Nathan Myers, who created on of the most celebrated synagogues of the 1920s along with many other buildings.

Nathan Myers lived his whole life in Newark. He was born Feb. 2, 1875 to Marcus and Julia Myers. He graduated from Cornell University’s College of Architecture in 1896 with a B.S. in architecture. Cornell was very welcoming to Jewish students had already graduated several successful young architects. Myers immediately began his practice of architecture in Newark in 1896 and worked in and around the city until his death in 1937.  His best known work is the B’nai Abraham synagogue and social center in Newark, begun in 1922 and dedicated in 1924. 

The synagogue, now the Deliverance Temple, is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.  The 2,000 seat former synagogue was considered when built one of the finest in the country. At the Temple's opening in 1924, congregation officials pronounced the buildings to be "models of completeness, judged from the standpoint of fitness and adaptability for Jewish worship and activities. They stand as a copy of no building nor group of buildings and in carrying out his own ideas and endeavoring to meet the congregation needs, the architect has displayed unusual skill." Despite the fame of the building, Myers was a member of Newark's B’nai Jeshurun Synagogue.

Newark, NJ. B’nai Abraham Synagogue. Nathan Myers, arch (1922-24). Photo: Samuel D. Gruber 2007

 Newark, NJ. B’nai Abraham Synagogue. Nathan Myers, arch (1922-24). Photo: Samuel D. Gruber 2008

Newark, NJ. B’nai Abraham Synagogue. Nathan Myers, arch (1922-24). Photo: Samuel D. Gruber 2008
  
Newark, NJ. B’nai Abraham Synagogue, sanctuary. Nathan Myers, arch (1922-24). Photo: Samuel D. Gruber 2008

Newark, NJ. B’nai Abraham Synagogue, sanctuary. Nathan Myers, arch (1922-24). Photo: Samuel D. Gruber 2008

Already in 1902 Myers had designed Temple Congregation Anshe Russia in Newark, which was illustrated in the Brickbuilder (11: 6-7, 1902)

 Newark, NJ. Temple Congregation Anshe Russia, 1902. Nathan Myers, architect. 

Myers also was the architect of Beth El Synagogue in Waterbury, CT., built by Shapiro & Sons in 1929. Designed in a stripped down Byzantine style, with a prominent hemispheric dome, it was one of many synagogues of the period that helped prepare the country for the introduction of modernism after World War II. 

Waterbury, CT., Beth El Synagogue,  Nathan Myers, arch, built by Shapiro &; Sons (1929).
Photo: Connecticut Jewish History 2:1 (Fall 1991), 139

Other known buildings were Lyceum Theater in Newark (1904); the Bamberger Broadcasting Company power station in Kearny, NJ;  St. Ann's Villa at Convent Station, NJ; and St. Paul's AME Zion Church in Orange, NJ.

His best known late building was the 14-story Art Deco Hersch Tower in midtown Elizabeth, New Jersey. designed with Joseph Sanford Stanley, who worked for Myers in his Newark office after graduation from Princeton, from 1929 to 1935 (he would later gain prominence as an architect of religious buildings)Built in 1931 at the beginning of the  Great Depression  by businessman Louis F. Hersh, it was the tallest building in the city at the time.  

According to Who's Who in American Jewry 1926, Nathan Myers married Estelle Gerber on January 1, 1901 and then remarried Minnie Rose Rich on May 21, 1922, in New York. He died in 1937. While several of his individual buildings are of note and worth saving when still extant and worth remembering when they are not, Myers is most interesting for the entirety of his career - which deserves more study. Nathan Myers is an example the third generation Jewish-American architect - professionally trained and deeply rooted to a particular place, where over the decades he made his mark. There were other Jewish architects like him Rochester and Albany, and further west. He was stylistically eclectic - but with strong classical leanings and ready to embrace more stripped-down modern decorative styles in the late 1920s and early 1930s. Many clients were probably Jewish - either businessmen or Jewish congregations. It is unclear to me whether Lewis F. Hersch of Elizabeth, whose grandfather ran C. Hersh & Sons Dry Goods Store begun in 1866, was Jewish or German, but I suspect the former.

If you have information about Nathan Myers, like me know.



Rodef Shalom in Pittsburgh New Home for Elbert Weinberg Steubenville Sculpture

Pittsburgh, PA. Rodef Shalom Congregation. Procession I by Elbert Weinberg. Photo: Samuel D. Gruber (2014)

Pittsburgh, PA. Rodef Shalom Congregation. Procession I by Elbert Weinberg. Photo: Samuel D. Gruber (2014)

Pittsburgh, PA. Rodef Shalom Congregation. Procession I by Elbert Weinberg. Photo: Samuel D. Gruber (2014)

Rodef Shalom Congregation in Pittsburgh New Home for Elbert Weinberg Steubenville Sculpture
by Samuel D. Gruber

The series of bronze sculpted figures titled  Procession I by noted American-Jewish sculptor Elbert Weinberg (1928-1991) that had stood at Temple Beth Israel in Steubenville, Ohio, for forty years, has found a new home at Rodef Shalom Congregation in Pittsburgh. This is one of three cast editions of this multi-piece work. The other two are on view in the courtyard of the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York and indoors at the Washington Hebrew Congregation in Washington, DC. 

New York, NY. Jewish Theological Seminary courtyard. Procession I by Elbert Weinberg. Photo: Samuel D. Gruber (2015)

New York, NY. Jewish Theological Seminary courtyard. Procession I by Elbert Weinberg. Photo: Samuel D. Gruber (2015)

Despite seemingly-identical casts the appearance and appreciation of each group differs due to siting and arrangement.  I saw the new installation on a visit to Rodef Shalom last October. The new Pittsburgh installation is the most accessible of the three - it can be seen from a major street - and it is the most beautiful. The three figural groups are placed in a landscaped garden setting.

Temple Beth Israel in Steubenville closed the doors on its 1966-built synagogue and held its last Shabbat service on May 17, 2013. It wasn't a question of lacks of funds; it was a problem of lack of members.  The congregants decided not to await a total collapse of their synagogue - figuratively and literally - but to close the congregation from a position of relative strength.  This was not a case of "the last one out, turn off the lights."  But for a congregation down from 200 to only 35 families, the writing was on the wall.  The congregation chose to close and sell the building, and after some careful consideration to find new religious homes for congregants (who now need to drive a half hour to Wheeling, West Virginia or to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania for services) and for their Judaica.  Procession I was the largest and most notable possession. 

Steubenville, Ohio. Temple Beth Israel. Elbert Weinberg sculpture Procession I in situ. Photo: Julian Preisler (2007)
 
Brochure for the Jewish Pavilion, Expo '67, with illustration of Procession I.  William A. Rosenthal Collection, College of Charleston

Weinberg sculpted The Procession in plaster beginning in 1955 and it was then exhibited at the Whitney Museum of American Art’s “Young America, 1957” exhibit where it attracted considerable media attention. With help from Mrs. Albert A. List, one of New York City’s great art patrons and an important benefactor of the Jewish Museum, it was cast in bronze in 1957. The work was then given to the Jewish Museum  and it was subsequently permanently displayed in the garden of the Jewish Theological Seminary where it can still be seen.  In 1967 the sculptural group was loaned for installation at the Jewish Pavilion at the Expo '67 World’s Fair in Montreal. In 1968, prominent art collectors Mr. and Mrs. Arthur Kobacker donated another identical casting to Temple Beth El in Steubenville. 

Steubenville, Ohio. Temple Beth Israel. Elbert Weinberg sculpture Procession I in situ. Photo: Julian Preisler (2007)

 Pittsburgh, PA. Rodef Shalom Congregation. Procession I by Elbert Weinberg. Photo: Samuel D. Gruber (2014)

Procession I consists of four figures headed by a Tallit-clad figure bearing a Torah. Behind him and to one side follow two linked figures, one of them holding an open prayer book. The last figure carries a menorah.

I like these works by Weinberg a lot, and the similar group Procession II installed on the grounds of Congregation Beth El in West Hartford, Connecticut, too. They've got me looking at other Weinberg work and I look forward to a stop in Hartford later this month to see more where he created a Holocaust memorial for his native city in 1982 and his bronze statue The Blind Sister of Narcissus, was recently installed outside the New Britain Museum of American Art in nearby New Britain, CT.  Weinberg's papers were recently donated to the Hartford Public Library where they are presently being processed. 

Weinberg had many other large commissions including the Holocaust Memorial in Wilmington, Delaware (1982) and works at the Embarcadero Center and the JW Marriott San Francisco Union Square Hotel in San Francisco, completed in the 1980s, not long before his premature death. Click here to see a large selection of Wienberg's sculpture including Judaica and Biblical works.



West Hartford, Connecticut. Congregation Beth El,   Procession II by Elbert Weinberg.Photo: Samuel D. Gruber (2011).

Weinberg was a Fellow of American Academy of Rome, and I think he was the youngest sculptor so honored when he won the Rome Prize in sculpture in 1951. But he was not the first Jewish sculptor at the Academy. Leo Friedlander, Reuben R. Kramer, and Albert Wein had all been there before. 

While in Rome, Weinberg made his first significant Judaica piece. "Ritual Figure" was a woodcarving of a man blowing a shofar. The work is figural - but interpretative and expressive. The piece was purchased by the Museum of Modern Art and was on the cover of Art in America. Soon after, Grace Borgenicht of the Borgenicht Gallery in New York City, took Weinberg on as an artist. The Procession figures - especially the menorah-carrying figure in Procession I and the shofar-blowers in Procession II - are descendants of that first Ritual Figure. It was through Borgenicht that in 1968, the Kobacker family purchased Procession I and donated the work to Temple Beth El in Steubenville.

Ritual Figure by Elbert Weinberg, Beechwood, 1953. Museum of Modern Art
 Pittsburgh, PA. Rodef Shalom Congregation. Procession I by Elbert Weinberg. Photo: Samuel D. Gruber 2014


Pittsburgh, PA. Rodef Shalom Congregation. Procession I by Elbert Weinberg. Photo: Samuel D. Gruber 2014

Pittsburgh, PA. Rodef Shalom Congregation. Procession I by Elbert Weinberg. Photo: Samuel D. Gruber 2014
Pittsburgh, PA. Rodef Shalom Congregation. Procession I by Elbert Weinberg. Photo: Samuel D. Gruber 2014

 
Pittsburgh, PA. Rodef Shalom Congregation. Procession I by Elbert Weinberg. Photo: Samuel D. Gruber 2014

 
Pittsburgh, PA. Rodef Shalom Congregation. Procession I by Elbert Weinberg. Photo: Samuel D. Gruber (2014)

Thanks to the following for help with this post:

Martha Berg, archivist, Rodef Shalom Congregation, Pittsburgh;
Harold Lindenthal, Elbert Weinberg Trust
Stephen Brown, The Jewish Museum
Julian Preisler, author of The Synagogues of Central and Western Pennsylvania (2014)

Monday, January 26, 2015

USA: Charleston, SC, Congregation Maintains Historic Jewish Cemetery One Stone (and One Wall) at a Time

 Charleston, South Carolina. KKBE's Coming Street Cemetery. Photo: Samuel D. Gruber 2014

  Charleston, South Carolina. KKBE's Coming Street Cemetery. Photo: Samuel D. Gruber 2014

USA: Charleston, SC, Congregation Maintains Historic Jewish Cemetery One Stone (and One Wall) at a Time
by Samuel D. Gruber

(ISJM) In early November I had the pleasure of spending a few days in Charleston, South Carolina, one of the most beautiful cities in America and a place with one of the oldest and richest Jewish histories.  Besides visiting the beautiful Greek Revival Kahal Kadosh Beth Elohim (KKBE) synagogue (1841), about which I have often written and lectured, I had my first visit to the congregation's old cemetery on Coming Street - one of the oldest Jewish sites in the New World, and one that deserves to be among the most celebrated. 

The cemetery, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, is the repository of the human remains of Charleston's early Jewish community, but it is much more than that. The gravestones and monuments tell the history of what was once America's largest and most prosperous Jewish settlement. I was fortunate to learn more of this history and the particulars of the cemetery from Anita Moise Rosenberg, President of the KKBE Board and congregant and cemetery historian Randi Serrins.

Jews have lived in Charleston since at least 1695, twenty-five years after the founding of the colony. KKBE was organized in 1749 and the congregation built its first impressive synagogue in 1791.  The Coming Street Cemetery originated as the De Costa Family plot in 1754 became a community cemetery in 1764. It is the second oldest Jewish cemetery in North America. The oldest identifiable grave is that of Moses D. Cohen, the first religious leader of Beth Elohim, who died in 1762.  A second section dates from 1841, and was developed by KKBE members who seceded  over the installation of an organ in the synagogue and formed Orthodox Congregation Shearith Israel. After the Civil War, the two congregations reunited and the brick dividing wall was removed.

Charleston, South Carolina. KKBE's Coming Street Cemetery. The Lopez Family section. Photo: Samuel D. Gruber 
 2014

The last section added to the cemetery is the former Lopez family plot  established in 1843 when Shearith Israel refused burial to David Lopez Jr.'s first wife Catherine who had not converted to Judaism when she married Lopez in 1832, though she ran a Jewish house and raised her five children as Jews. When she died, Lopez acquired a lot immediately adjacent to the Jewish cemetery for the ornate Gothic style tomb beneath which she and her youngest son  were buried. A wrought iron fence and gate with the words, “David Lopez,” separated the Lopez plot from Shearith Israel’s burial ground. In all, 21 members of the Lopez family were buried in thirteen graves in this plot. The conservation of the Catherine and Charles Lopez tomb is now a priority for the congregation. Besides its artistic merit, the history of this tomb and its occupant tell us much about the mores and taboos of early antebellum Charleston Jewry - an important time when Charleston's preoccupations both mirrored and influenced Jewish communal behavior nationwide.  You can read more about this impressive monument here.

David Lopez, Jr. was one of America's first known Jewish builders. He was born in Charleston in 1809 and made his fortune in construction. He became a leader of the community and was responsible for the building (but not design) of KKBE. He also built Institute Hall where South Carolina signed the Ordinance of Secession, a prelude to the Civil War.  According to Randi Serrins Lopez also built the Queen Street tenements at 153-155 Queen Street, Mt. Zion AME Church, a four-story department store that later became the Academy of Music, the Moorish style former Farmer’s and Exchange Bank (more recently Saracen Restaurant), and the Courtenay Building. During the Civil War his factory made torpedo boats to fight the Union blockade of Charleston.  

Ernest O. Shealy documented that early in his career Charleston architect Edward C. Jones worked for David Lopez, and Serrins speculates that perhaps Jones and his associate Francis D. Lee - who together re-designed the Unitarian Church on Archdale Street in an English Gothic style in 1852 - were the architects.

 Charleston, South Carolina. KKBE's Coming Street Cemetery. Catherine and Charles Lopez tomb in Lopez family section. Photo: Samuel D. Gruber 2014

Charleston, SC. Unitarian Church, Archdale St.  Edward C. Jones
and Francis D. Lee, architects, 1852. Photo: Samuel D. Gruber (2014)

In total, the cemetery has over 500 graves;though many are not marked. Upright "tablet" gravestones are the most common, though there are also many box tombs covered with inscribed monolithic slabs, and there are also an assortment of more sculptural monuments in the style of the 19th-centyr with columns and obelisks.

The Coming Street cemetery is a military cemetery with the graves of ten congregants who fought in the American Revolution, six soldiers of the War of 1812, two soldiers in the Seminole Wars in Florida, 21 Civil War participants, of whom eight died in the Confederate cause.  The cemetery also is the resting place of six of the KKBE's rabbis, 18 past congregation presidents and four of the eleven founders of the Supreme Council of Scottish Rite Masonry in 1801.

Charleston, South Carolina. KKBE's Coming Street Cemetery..Box tomb of colonial merchant Moses Cohen (1700-1762), the oldest identifiable grave in the cemetery. Photo: Samuel D. Gruber (2014)

The congregation has been restoring the cemetery for many years.  Study of the gravestones is aided by the compilation of inscriptions published by Rabbi Barnett A. Elzas in 1903. Local historian Solomon Breibart also contributed much to the knowledge of the cemetery's history.  He was buried there in 2009 and his grave in the near the cemetery entrance.

The centuries have taken their toll. Gravestones have been damaged by erosion, earthquakes, adjoining development, tree roots, pollution and vandalism.  Many inscriptions are hard to read.  Some stones are broken, others pushed over by tree root pressure.  Fixing all this is a difficult and expensive process and the work proceeds little by little, stone by stone.  Still, the overall condition of the cemetery is better than that of many of the old Sephardi cemeteries in Caribbean which share family members. Significantly, the cemetery borders remain intact, unlike so many ravaged cemeteries in Europe. 


 Charleston, South Carolina. KKBE's Coming Street Cemetery. Reinforced cemetery boundary wall still in need of restoration. Photo: Samuel D. Gruber 2014  

In 2013 the National Society Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) donated $10,000.00 to KKBE for the restoration project. The DAR grant has been used for wall restoration and repair of the Revolutionary-era graves.  The original boundary walls constructed by 18th-century craftsmen are severely compromised with significant through-wall cracks which now present an urgent danger to the very graves they have protected for centuries.  See more pictures of the Coming Street Cemetery Restoration Project 

Charleston, South Carolina. KKBE's Coming Street Cemetery.. Box tomb of Revolutionary War Captain Abraham Mendes Seixas (1750-1799), restored with DAR grant. Photo: Samuel D. Gruber (2014)

Charleston, South Carolina. KKBE's Coming Street Cemetery. Gravestone of Confederate soldier Marx E. Cohen, Jr. (1839-1865), killed at the Battle of Bentonville, North Carolina.

I was especially eager to see the grave of Penina Moïse (1797-1880), an early published American woman poet, whose 1833 poetry volume Fancy’s Sketch Book, was the first published by a Jewish American woman.  She was a leading voice in the new language of Reform Judaism in the first half of the 19th century.  A half century before Emma Lazarus, Moïse gave American Judaism a new voice in a new language, and to link the heroics of ancient Jewish history to new American opportunities. Moïse's hymns were written for KKBE but were sung across the country for more than a century.  She is also remembered as a founder with Sally Lopez (David Lopez's sister), of the Beth Elohim Sunday School in 1845, one of the first in the country.

 Charleston, South Carolina. KKBE's Coming Street Cemetery. Grave of poet and teacher Penina Moïse. Photo: Samuel D. Gruber 2014
 
This year I was pleased to present and sing (with piano accompaniment by Syracuse University music history professor Amanda Winkler) Moïse 's hymn "Feast of Lights: Great Arbiter of Human Fate," at my annual Hanukkah party. The hymn in the tone of the lyric and the steadfastness of the musical arrangement by Edward Samuel recalls, not unexpectedly,  Protestant hymns sung at the time (and still today).
Penina Moïse. "Feast of Lights." Photo from Ashton, Hannukkah in America: A History (NY: NYU Press, 2013).

 Charleston, South Carolina. KKBE's Coming Street Cemetery. Obelisk grave monument. Photo: Samuel D. Gruber 2014


Charleston, South Carolina. KKBE's Coming Street Cemetery. Column grave monument. Photo: Samuel D. Gruber 2014

 Charleston, South Carolina. KKBE's Coming Street Cemetery. Photo: Samuel D. Gruber 2014
Today, KKBE congregation burials take place in KKBE’s Huguenin Avenue Cemetery, established in 1887. 

More information on KKBE’s history and the Coming Street Cemetery is available on www.kkbe.org.  If you are interested in a tour of the Coming Street Cemetery, please contact the KKBE office, 843-723-1090 or email shalom@kkbe.org.