Sunday, September 11, 2011

USA: Syracuse, NY, Temple Concord Sanctuary A Century Old: Re-Dedication on September 18, 2011

Syracuse, NY. Temple Concord in winter and summer. Photos: Samuel D. Gruber

USA: Syracuse, NY, Temple Concord Sanctuary a Century Old: Re-Dedication on September 18, 2011
by Samuel D. Gruber

(this text adapted from my article that appeared in the Jewish Observer)

On September 23, 1911 Syracuse, NY dignitaries gathered on the steps of the newly-built Temple Society of Concord to dedicate Central New York’s newest place of worship and the grandest Jewish building in Upstate New York. On September 18th, 2011 at 2:00 pm Rabbi Daniel J. Fellman, congregants and public and religious leaders will join together to re-dedicate the stately classical-style Temple for another century of Jewish worship in Central New York.

Temple Concord began the celebration of the building’s construction last September, when the congregation celebrated the centennial of the laying of the building's cornerstone. In the past year Temple Concord has hosted a series of historical, cultural and community events to celebrate 100 years of Reform Judaism on the “Hill.” Events have included concerts, lectures, historically inspired religious services, and a benefit auction.

The year will conclude with the weekend celebration; a gala dinner dance on September 17th celebrating the congregation’s centennial families – those members whose families have maintained continuous membership and service at Concord since this building opened; and Sunday’s rededication. The congregation will especially recognize life-long member 97-year old artist Fritzie Smith, whose grandfather Louis Glazier served as assistant to Rabbi Guttman, who presided at the building dedication, and also served as the congregation’s cantor and Hebrew teacher even before the new Temple was built. Other families honored will be the Holsteins, whose ancestor Adolph founded the Syracuse Ornamental Company (SYROCO) in 1890 and donated the present pulpit, lecterns and arm chairs as a memorial to his parents. “Our place of worship is our religious home,” said his grandson, life-long member Alexander Holstein. “The beautiful building and its walls hold treasures of the happy and sad times of our family life for four generations.” Octogenarian Michael Moss’s family will be honored – his parents Jacob Moss and Frances Silverstein were among the first to be married by Rabbi Guttman in the new sanctuary on June 4, 1912. The congregation will also recognize the Dan Harris family, which on the Rosenbloom side has been associated with the temple for many generations.

When Concord Rabbi Adoph Guttman and then congregation President Gates Thalhiemer addressed their audience of the city’s political and business leadership and a large ecumenical assembly of clergy in 1911, they knew they were doing something extraordinary – testimony to the struggles and success three generations of American Jews is Syracuse. In 1911 the city of Syracuse was not yet a century old, and Jews had organized in the city only seven decades before. Temple Concord had been founded by Jewish immigrants from Central Europe in 1839. Could those Jewish leaders have imagined that their congregation and their new building would remain intact and strong for another century?

It was an age of optimism, and that was surely their inspiration, though the tumultuous and transformative events of the 20th century could not have been anticipated. But through horrific world wars and the destruction of the Holocaust; the expansion and contraction of Central New York’s economy, industry and population; the spread of electricity, the automobile, air and space travel, and computers and so many other technological, social, demographic, economic, military, artistic and political changes; Temple Concord has always maintained Friday night worship services, a religious school, and a caring, welcoming community. The congregation has changed and modernized, but its stately building, designed by architects Alfred Taylor and Arnold W. Brunner, has changed little inside and out.

Brunner, who at the time of the Temple’s construction was president of the New York Chapter of the American Institute of Architects, and was overseeing the completion of his grand Federal Building in Cleveland, is also notable as the first successful American-born Jewish architect. He was probably recommended to the congregation by the great lawyer and human rights advocate Louis Marshall, who remained associated with Temple Concord all his life, even when he served as President of Temple Emanu-El in Manhattan.

For generations, Temple Concord has been a bedrock institution in Syracuse, and since 2008 its building has been designated as a landmark for the nation, listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

On September 18, 1911 the Post-Standard reported that

“Simplicity and dignity, two marked characteristics of the new house of worship, were emphasized at the dedication of the massive synagogue of the Temple Society of Concord … The new temple is one of the most impressive buildings in Syracuse. Having followed out the Doric Renaissance style of architecture, with four immense columns, the general effect is not unlike that of the ancient temples, and the interior, with its old ivory finishes, subdued lights and Circassian walnut trimmings, is equal in beauty to any recent work of art along architectural lines in this city.”

Gates Thalheimer, president of Temple Concord in 1911

At the 1911 dedication Thalheimer said: “In this country no Jew needs to be ashamed of his religion. Under the protection of the Stars and the Stripes we are permitted to worship God according to the dictates of our heart. All that is required of us is to be upright and honest in our dealings with fellow men and be good American citizens. The better Jews we are the betters Americans we will be.” A century later, these sentiments remain as true as ever.


Hels said...

Well done to this community. But why did the Syracuse Temple need to be rededicated in September 2011? Did the population leave so that the shule stopped functioning as a shule? Did the building need repairs, renovations or changes? It looks pretty impressive from the outside.

Samuel D. Gruber said...

Well, maybe re-dedication is the wrong word...more like a "renewal of vows" in that the congregation will look ahead to another century. Yes, the congregation made a decision in the 1980s not to move from the city when all the others did. now its central location is an asset, as the Jewish community is more widely spread in all directions, and nothing is very far in travel time - rarely more than 20 minutes away - in the area, including suburbs.
maintenance is costly - but less costly than moving an rebuilding. Good stewardship is as much about timing as anything. It is important not to put off repairs as they will be more difficult and expensive later one. Of course, I am biased, as I've been on the Temple facilities committee for more tan a decade.