Friday, April 30, 2010

Greece: Passover at Hania's Etz Hayyim and Fund-raising Update


Passover in Hania. Photos courtesy Friends of Etz Hayyim

Greece: Passover at Etz Hayyim and Fund Raising Update

(ISJM) It has now been several months since arsonists attacked the historic Etz Hayyim Synagogue in Hania, Crete. The congregation, with some help from neighbors, has cleaned up the mess and made the synagogue look whole again. some new security measures have been installed, and an international effort in in progress to collect books to rebuild the library that was destroyed by fire, smoke and water. Visitors are again coming to the synagogue, and Nikos Stavorulakis and his associates are preparing for the usual summer surge in visitation. But the bills for the clean-up and repairs still have to be paid, and money still needs to be raised. So far ISJM has collected about $27,000 from approximately 150 individual donors. Others have sent money directly to Greece. If you would like to contribute more funds checks should be made out to ISJM and sent to:

International Survey of Jewish Monuments

118 Julian Place, Box 210

Syracuse, NY 13210

(be sure to write "Etz Hayyim" on the memo line)

Nikos reports on progress at the Etz Hayyim Synagogue on the Etz Hayyim blog. As it does every year, the heterogeneous community gathered in April at the synagogue for a Passover Seder. Nikos describes this year's gathering and ritual meal:

Passover at Etz Hayyim is somewhat like a family gathering as over the past ten years the community During the times when it was felt necessary to expand on the Haggadah special mention and note was made of the fact that Passover is about fleeing from idolatry in all its forms – even perhaps the idols that one makes of concepts and practices that perhaps impede our spiritual growth and freedom.

Seder attracts a good number of people who return annually to celebrate with us here.

This year we were prepared to see perhaps fewer participants due both to the ‘crunch’ as well as the arson attacks. Invitations were sent out as usual and response here in Hania seemed to indicate that we would have a fair attendance though it seemed unlikely that we would have the usual quota of visiting Israelis and Jews from Europe on vacation. We lay in provisions from Athens – matzoth and wine and chose a traditional Sephardi menu of non meat dishes – and even had the ‘korban’ pre-roasted in Athens and sent by courier.

Nicholas de Lange arrived in good time and after getting copies of our last year’s haggadah printed up we set about making arrangements with a nearby restaurant that we have used on former occasions.

Everyone assembled at the Synagogue for Arvith prayers and then made their way to the restaurant and we, Nicholas de Lange and myself, took on the part of readers. During the times when it was felt necessary to expand on the Haggadah special mention and note was made of the fact that Passover is about fleeing from idolatry in all its forms – even perhaps the idols that one makes of concepts and practices that perhaps impede our spiritual growth and freedom.

Almost 60 people attended the reading of the Haggadah and after the hiding of the Afikomin set about serving themselves from a buffet of traditional Sephardi food.

At the end of the meal the cup of Eliahu was filled with wine that was taken from everyone’s glasses and the door was opened to the street as we said the thanksgiving prayers.

We are especially happy that some friends arrived from Turkey as well as the young Palestinian who helped me the night of the first fire and the friars from the nearby Catholic monastery…thus the sense of members of one widely extended family – Jews, Christians and Muslims was very evident.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

USA: Pittsburgh's Spectacular Rodef Sholom




Pittsburgh, PA. Rodef Shalom, Henry Hornbostel, architect. Sanctuary. Photos: Samuel D. Gruber (2010)

USA: Henry Hornbostel's Congregation Rodef Shalom and the Architecture of Carnegie-Mellon University

a few weeks ago I was in Pittsburgh visiting the campus of Carnegie-Mellon University (CMU), and staying nearby at the house of friend on Morewood Avenue. Traveling from house to campus I passed the wonderful Rodef Shalom synagogue, one of the masterpieces of early 20th century synagogue design - the American answer to many of the European central-plan and domed extravaganzas of the early century (Szeged, Subotica, Sofia, etc.)

The Reform synagogue was designed by the firm of Palmer & Hornbostel, and it is Henry Hornbostel's design. The following account of Hornbostel's work quotes from the text and notes of my 2003 book American Synagogues: A Century of Architecture and Jewish Community, pp. 40-45, 229-230.

Hornbostel was one of America’s foremost classicists, for for this project he employed a more contemporary European style. Hornbostel graduated in 1891 at the head of his class at the School of Mines at Columbia University, and shortly thereafter left for Paris where he studied at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts, and where he worked for Charles-Louis Girault (1851-1932), a prominent practitioner of the decorative classicism popular at the turn-of-the-century. The style is most evident in the 1900 Paris exhibition, for which Girault designed the Petit Palais.

Hornbostel arrived in Pittsburgh in 1904 as the architect of the new Carnegie Institute of Technology, where he also founded the school of architecture and served as its first director. With William Palmer he designed the Pittsburgh City Hall (1910) and the Soldier and Sailors Memorial (1911), as well as dozens a major buildings and monuments across the country (See Steven McLeod Bedford, “Hornbostel, Henry,” in Adolf K. Placzek, ed., Macmillan Encyclopedia of Architects, 2 (New York: The Free Press, 1982). 420-21.)

Rodef Shalom is the oldest Jewish Congregation in western Pennsylvania. The first building was erected in 1862 on Hancock Street (later Eighth Street), designed by Charles Bartberger. Within a year, the congregation became a leader of the new Reform movement. Services were shortened, the women would sit with the men and an organ was installed. By 1874, the practice of wearing of a hat or yarmulke by the men was abolished, and Rodef Shalom joined the Union of American Hebrew Congregations. Reform leadership was cemented when the Temple hosted a conference of Reform rabbis in 1885, who created the "Pittsburgh Platform'' that guided Reform Judaism until 1937 when a different Platform was adopted.

In my book I wrote that "legend has it that Hornbostel beat out Albert Kahn" (who had designed Detroit's Beth El) for the commission. Martha Berg, archivist of Rodef Shalom has since informed me that not only did Palmer & Hornbostel beat Kahn, but that six distinguished architectural firms had been invited to submit designs for the building. These also included Allison & Allison of Pittsburgh and Charles Bickel of Pittsburgh; as well as George Post & Sons of New York; and Pilcher & Tachau of New York. According the Berg, Bickel had designed the second Rodef Shalom building just a few years before (1901) on the site the first building. About the same time Tachau also lost out on the competition for Temple Adath Israel in is native city of Louisville, be shortly afterward he and Pilcher would design the innovative classical style Mikveh Israel Synagogue in Philadelphia, and Tachau would go on to design several more impressive synagogues through the 1920s and also write about synagogue architecture.

I further wrote:
The result of the competition was quite new to American synagogue architecture, while still within the tasteful norms of Jewish mercantile-industrial society. Rodeph Shalom, built in 1907, has a distinctly Central European flavor, quite distinct from Hornbostel’s otherwise mostly Classical oeuvre. Architectural historian Franklin Toker has cited the 1883 Budapest train station as a possible source for Hornbostel’s design. The design also recalls world’s fair pavilions, such as those for the Paris Exposition of 1900, on which Hornbostel worked with his teacher at the Ecole des Beaux Arts, C. L. Girault.

The Reform synagogue is situated at the northwest corner of Fifth and Morewood Avenues in Pittsburgh’s fashionable Oakland section, close to several churches, including the 1904 Classical First Church of Christ, Scientist located directly across the street and designed by Chicago architect S.S. Beman.

It is typical of many “second settlement” synagogues of the period, erected as public buildings around parks and newly designed civic centers for more affluent Jewish populations that had removed themselves from dense urban neighborhoods.
The synagogue is divided into three main parts: the ornate entrance, the sanctuary cube, and the squared dome that surmounts it. The inside reflects similar shapes and motifs, but the decoration is enlivened with applied ornament in the style of Louis Sullivan, and a sensitive use of natural and artificial light. Historian Toker has noted, “Unlike most pre-modern synagogues, there is nothing fake-Moorish here, although the dazzling colors on the terra-cotta bands (now faded) hint so strongly at orientalism that passersby know instinctively that this is not a church.”

One of the significant innovations in the design was the introduction of color—both inside and out. The architectural press of the time stated that the work was "artistically accomplished as to present an attractive and harmonious effect. The entrance feature and the frieze that encircles the building, executed by the Atlantic Terra-Cotta Co., may be regarded as one of the most successful attempts in this direction that has been accomplished in this country. The entire building, with its green dome, buff brick, the polychromatic effect of the terra-cotta, presents an effect highly creditable to the architect and a delightfully restful spot in what would otherwise be a monotonous and uninteresting thoroughfare." (The American Architect and Building News, XCIII: 1682 (March 18, 1908).

The groined dome of double shell construction is entirely composed of Guastavino tile and has a clear span of 92 feet. The tile is strong enough to replace the steel construction originally intended. The upper, or exposed, shell of the dome is covered with green glazed terra-cotta tiles. Inside, the dome is covered with decorative plaster. At the center is a large octagonal stained-glass skylight.

The sanctuary was designed to seat 1,100 people on the ground floor; with additional seating for 350 in the gallery at the rear. A 20-foot-high oak wainscot runs around the sanctuary wall, above which are large stained-glass memorial windows. The windows, made by the Willett Studio, are unusual, but part of a growing trend at the time of including figural compositions. A large stained-glass window of Moses, for example, was included in the Ark wall of the De Hirsch Synagogue in Seattle, also built in 1907. While all the scenes at Rodeph Shalom come from the Hebrew Bible, the artist clearly drew from Christian iconography. “Mercy and Judgment” depicts a bearded man carrying a child and a woman on the ground who represents the despair of poverty. “Moses interceding for his people” shows Moses praying on a hill, in a manner commonly used in renderings of the contemplative Jesus. In “Ruth and Naomi” two women embrace, similar to church scenes of the meeting of Mary and Elizabeth. A visitor sitting by the bedside of a sick girl and, above, two angels carrying the soul of the deceased in a typically Christian manner is the subject of “Charity.”

As in many new synagogues of the period, individual, theater-style seats are used, and each rack of seats terminates at the aisle with a pew end or post. The engineering of the synagogue, as well as its religious programming, were up-to-date—it was mechanically ventilated and heated by direct steam system. A Sunday school was placed in a wing to the rear of the main auditorium along with an assembly room, classroom, clubroom, library, and rabbi’s study.



Pittsburgh, PA. , Hamerschlag Hall 9Originally Machinery Hall, 1912), Carnegie-Mellon University, Henry Hornbostel, architect. Sanctuary. Photo: Samuel D. Gruber (2010)

In 2003, I focused more on the place of this synagogue in the Jewish context, but not in its local context, except to mention its proximity to the First Church of Christ Scientist. Though I mentioned that that congregation was able to engage Hornbostel because he was on site as Andrew Carnegie's architect of the new Carnegie Technical Institute (now CMU), I didn't relate the synagogue to the Carnegie designs. This was a mistake, because it is only in the context of the campus buildings that one fully understands the significance of Rodef Shalom's design. The things that are similar are important, and so are the distinctions.


Pittsburgh, PA. , Carnegie-Mellon University, Building dtls, Henry Hornbostel, architect. Sanctuary. Photo: Samuel D. Gruber (2010)

Much of the constructional detail of the synagogue - the yellow brick, decorative tilework and use of Guastovino vaulting - is also fond in the CMU buildings (competition 1903, open 1906 ff), and this continuity links synagogue to campus. That in itself is a remarkable association at the time since overt Jewish presence on or even near American campuses was virtually unknown. The CMU buildings, however, are more overly classical in design, something Hornbostel and the congregation chose to avoid in the new synagogue...thus making it a stylistic exception to the many new classical-style Reform synagogues being erected across American in the first decade of the 20th century (about which more in an upcoming article.

Pittsburgh, PA. Rodef Shalom, Henry Hornbostel, architect. Sanctuary. Photo: Paul Rocheleau

Friday, April 23, 2010

Great Britain: Possible Medieval Synagogue in Northampton

Great Britain: Possible Medieval Synagogue in Northampton
by Samuel D. Gruber


(ISJM) Marcus Roberts of National Anglo-Jewish Heritage Trail (JTrails) in Northampton, England has presented evidence for the possible - even likely - identification of a site in that town as the remains of a medieval synagogue.

A survey using ground penetrating radar, carried out in partnership with Birmingham University, has identified stone walls and what appears to be a stairway and entry, possibly confirming known descriptions of the former Northampton synagogue which according to Roberts is recorded as a sunken building, entered by steps (‘and a fair and stately hall’) in an account of Northampton buildings before the Great Fire of 1674. An illustration in a bird’s eye view map of 1634 appears to show the same building where we detected the sub-cellar remains.

A survey of land underneath Kebabish (a kebab shop) and The Bear Public House, both in Sheep Street, Northampton, has identified what may be the remains of a synagogue which would date to the period before the expulsion of Jews from England in 1290.

Roberts told the Northampton Chronicle & Echo (April 9, 2010): " It ...showed what appears to be two walls going down 14 feet underneath cellar level. There was also a square or rectangular structure next to it which may well have been a stairway going down into the synagogue." Roberts further told me that "the very substantial building was a sunken structure in the medieval period, an adjacent wall in the pub cellar appears to be an up-wards extension and adjacent structure to the sub-cellar finds, which could thereby be a visible remnant of the synagogue wall or an adjacent Jewish building and is at least six feet thick."

Last year, an archaeological survey in Northampton discovered what Roberts believes is the site of a 12th century Jewish cemetery of the city. In the case of the new find, Roberts and project partner Caroline Sturdy Colls, a PhD archaeology student at Birmingham University, both warned they could not be certain of the nature of the remains without excavating the site. Based on the historical and documentary evidence, Robers is confident that Sheep Street was once home to a medieval Jewish settlement and synagogue. But even if the identified remains are part of a former Jewish street, much more evidence would needed to prove they were also part of a synagogue. One remembers that controversy and disagreement on the identification of the massive Romanesque structure excavated in Rouen (France). That episode is a lesson that despite the lack of many many large Jewish communal structures of the period surviving today, there may have been more than we presume. Not every significant building in a Jewish quarter or on a Jewish street need have been a synagogue.


But Roberts told the local paper "But we thought we would find the synagogue there and what we have found is an extremely substantial medieval sunken building."

To date there are no confirmed remains of medieval synagogues in England. In the 1990s a small structure with built-in benches was excavated in Guildford and was quickly identified as a likely synagogue, but experts now disagree over its original use. Excavations in London in recent years have revealed remains of houses of local Jews and of mikvot, but no synagogue.


For further reading see:


Alexander, Mary, 1997. “A possible synagogue in Guildford,” in G. De Boe & F. Verhaeghe, ed.s: Religion and Belief in Medieval Europe – Papers of the Medieval Europe Brugge 1997 Conference, vol. 4, 201-212, I.A.P. Rapporten 4, Zellik, 1997.


Blair, Ian; Hillaby, Joe; Howell, Isca; Serman, Richard; and Watson, Bruce, 2001. “Two Medieval Jewish Ritual Baths – Mikva’ot – found at Gresham Street and Milk Street in London,” Transactions of the London and Middlesex Archaeological Society, Vol. 52 (2001), 127-137.


Isserlin, Raphael M.J., “Building Jerusalem in the ‘Islands of the Sea’: The Archaeology of Medieval Anglo-Jewry” in S. Kadish, ed., Building Jerusalem: Jewish Architecture in Britain. Vallentine Mitchell, London and Portland, Or., 34-53.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

USA: New York's Schiff Fountain Has Seen Better Days

New York, NY. Schiff fountain in its original position with Brunner's Seward Park Bath Pavilion on left - facing Essex Street. Photo courtesy of New York City Parks Photo Archive.

New York, NY. Section drawing of Schiff fountain, probably from the 1930s. Photo courtesy of NYC Dept of Parks/Recreation.

New York, NY. Schiff fountain in the 1980s, still essentially intact. Photo courtesy of New York City Parks Photo Archive.

New York, NY. Seward Park. Schiff Fountain in present condition. Photo: S. Gruber 2010.

USA: New York's Schiff Fountain at Seward Park Has Seen Better Days
by Samuel D. Gruber

Turn-of-the-20th-century financier and philanthropist Jacob Schiff and American Jewish architect Arnold W. Brunner had a long and productive relationship, especially when it came to designing useful buildings to aid the material and cultural condition of New York City Jews. Brunner designed many charitable and educational structures funded all or in part by Schiff, and many of these were on the Lower East Side. Brunner especially made a mark on the small area around Rutgers Square located between Seward Park and the The (former) Forward Building.

One of the earliest Brunner-Schiff collaboration was the five-story Educational Alliance, built in 1891 (Brunner and Tryon, architects), and still in use. In 1904 Brunner designed the Bath Pavilion for Seward Park, but this was replaced in the 1930s.

In 1894, Schiff and Brunner collaborated again when the philanthropist donated a fountain to the city to be installed at Rutgers Square. The city voted to accept the gift in November 1894. The Board of Aldermen voted to connect the fountain in August 1895. Though simple, the fountain supplied an unusual element of elegance in the neighborhood, at a public square better known as the meeting point for political demonstrations. A few years later, in 1909, the Seward Park branch of the Public Library (Babb, Cook & Welch, architects) was erected near-by, and this provided an appropriate palace-like background for the fountain. According to a report on the fountain provided to me from the New York City Department of Parks, Schiff "donated the fountain to the City, asking not for recognition of the deed, but only that it ‘be kept in proper condition so that the people of the Seventh Ward may have an opportunity to enjoy it.’

Given the history of the fountain, Schiff's concern with upkeep was legitimate. Within a short time the fountain was being regularly defiled, with its basins field with garbage. To counter this, according to the New York Times (Sept. 27, 1895). The Henry Street settlement organized neighborhood boys to watch over the fountain. The fountain was moved in 1936 to its present location on the western edge of Seward Park. Ironically, this was the same year that Brunner’s Pavilion in Seward Park was demolished.

New York, NY. Seward Park Pavilion, Arnold W. Brunner, architect. Built 1904-05, demolished ca. 1936. Architectural League of New York Annual Exhibition Catalogue,1903.

Since then the fountain has deteriorated. I was recently in the neighborhood and noted its broken condition and inquired to the City of New York/Parks & Recreation, Department of Art & Antiquities, which has (until now unsuccessfully) promoted the fountain's restoration.

The fountain consists of large circular ground level basin in the center of which is a pedestal supporting a small raised basin. Originally it had two bronze basins surmounted by a finial, an attached drinking fountain with bronze appliques with grotesques at the spouts, and granite semi-circular seats set apart from the fountain itself. The stone seats have been relocated to opposite ends of the park and the lower basin is all that remains of the fountain itself.

The Parks Department has wanted to have the fountain restored for many years. According to a report on the fountain last updated in 2006, "Restoration would include the replacement of missing granite and bronze elements, the cleaning and repointing of the existing granite, and the repair or replacement of the plumbing to make the fountain operable." Unfortunately all efforts to date to fund the project - which would cost between $500,000 and $1.5 million, have been unsuccessful. Work would include:
  • Structural Assessment
  • Repair and Replacement of Missing Elements
  • Graffiti Removal
  • Bronze Repatina and Application of Protective Coating
  • Plumbing Repair
  • Possible Relocation of Benches to Original Position


New York, NY. Seward Park. Schiff Fountain inscription. Photo: S. Gruber 2010.

At first glance there is nothing inherently Jewish about the fountain except its history and the many Jewish communal projects of its sponsor and architect. But a close look reveals a worn inscription from Exodus 17:6 on the pedestal:

"... and there shall come water out of it, that the people may drink."

[of course this isn't inherently Jewish, since Christians including Pope Sixtus V in Rome have used it on fountains, too)

Holocaust Remembrance Project at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute





USA: Holocaust Remembrance Project at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI)

I visited Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI) this weekend with my son (who has been accepted and is considering attending in the fall). I was impressed with the campus, and noted the prominent placement of a project to mark Yom ha-Shoah (Holocaust Remembrance Day) created by RPI students. The project is an installation of thousands of colored flags on the former sports field near the center of campus. The colors denote different groups of victims of Nazi policies of destruction, murder and genocide.

The installation was created by the campus's Holocaust Remembrance Committee, a group of students "dedicated to raising awareness, commemorating, and providing a forum for students, faculty, staff, and the community to reflect on how the Holocaust and Holocaust commemoration can be meaningful to us today."


Jews on the Altar: MOBIA Exhibition Examines Images on Spanish Altarpieces

You can read my discussion of the current exhibition Uneasy Communion: Jews, Christians, and the Altarpieces of Medieval Spain in The Forward newspaper. The exhibition is on view until through May 30th. It is accompanied by an informative and beautifully illustrated catalog with essays by exhibition curator Vivian B. Mann, Marcus B. Burke, Carmen Laccara Ducay and Thomas F. Glick.

Jews on the Altar: MOBIA Exhibition Examines Images on Spanish Altarpieces

By Samuel D. Gruber

Published April 07, 2010, issue of April 16, 2010.

Jewish Spain is a world of which many have heard, but few actually know. Popular and even scholarly Jewish discourse is full of rumor and exaggeration, and interpretations of scattered facts vary widely. Since 1992, however, when Spain began a rapprochement with Jews and Judaism on the 500th anniversary of the expulsion, more and more facts have been brought to light, and new eyes and new ways of looking have trained on this evidence. Read More