Sunday, January 3, 2021

Happy Birthday Jack Levine

Jack Levine, Jewish Cantors in the Synagogue, 1930. Ars Judaica, 3:79




    

https://cdn1.nyt.com/images/2010/11/09/arts/design/20101109-levine-ss-slide-MXB4/20101109-levine-ss-slide-MXB4-jumbo.jpg
Jack Levine. The Feast of Pure Reason, 1937.
 

Jack Levine. Adam and Eve (Eve Offers Apple), ca. 1981. Oil on canvas, 48x42in, Jewish Artists & the Bible, p31


Happy Birthday Jack Levine (1915-2010)!

Today is the birthday of the American-Jewish artist Jack Levine  (January 3, 1915 – November 8, 2010), a Social Realist painter and print maker known for his satires on modern life and political corruption, and for his sensual and sometimes comic biblical narratives. Levine made works on Jewish themes all of his life. His Cantors in the Synagogue is a fine drawing of 1930 when he was only 15 years old. In the 1930s he began his Street Scene paintings which aimed to capture the rough mix of Boston's immigrant life in city neighborhoods.

Jack Levine, Street Scene no. 1, 1938. Boston Museum of Fine Arts. Photo: Samuel Gruber 2018.

Born to Lithuanian Jewish parents, Levine grew up in the South End of Boston and attended Harvard University (1929-33) where his artistic abilities were recognize. In 1932 his drawings were included in exhibition at the Fogg Art Museum, and in 1935 twenty drawings were added to the museum's collection.

Later in life, he painted scores of canvases of biblical scenes, including many variations on the Adam and Eve story and also the Planning of Solomon's Temple.

For the present age of income inequality and continuing systemic racism and  overt police violence against Black Americans, we should remember Levine for his scathing portrayals of plutocrats and their political and military cronies, as well as his strong series of paintings in response to the police violence against civil rights protesters in Birmingham, Alabama. He continued to include politics and social critique overtly and by association in his works through most of his career. 

Jack Levine, Birmingham ‘63, 1963

Fine Arts Museum of San Francisco

Jack Levine, The Arrest, 1983.

The Hunter Museum of American Art. Read more about The Arrest here.

His 1937 painting  “The Feast of Pure Reason,” that shows a police officer, a capitalist and a politician as cronies at a table, with bloated faces "oozing malice,"remains just as much an indictment of today's power structure as it was more than 80 years ago.

In his New York Times obituary he is quoted as saying “It is my privilege as an artist to put these gentlemen on trial, to give them every ingratiating characteristic they might normally have, and then present them, smiles, benevolence and all, leaving it up to the spectator to judge the merits of the case,”Read his full 2010 New York Times obituary here.

Levine was in the Army from 1942 to 1945 after which he painted painted Welcome Home, mocking military power. Later when the work was shown in Moscow he was investigated by the House Un-American Activities Committee.

Jack Levine, Welcome Home, 1946

Jack Levine, The Reluctant Ploughshare, 1946. The Brooklyn Museum.
  

Together with his Boston-born Harvard classmate Hyman Bloom, Levine helped create an alternative American Jewish modernism to the the New York School. He and Bloom preferred expressionism over abstraction, and remained true to narrative and social engagement. In this they were much more influenced by American Social Realists and inter-war German expressionists and satirists than their New York contemporaries who were more inspired by the formal trends of France. Levine hated abstraction. He is quoted as saying (I don't know the source): "I’m not a child of Cézanne, I’m a child of Daumier. I have a right to be. It’s a free country."

I suspect that over time, Levine's work - especially that of his early decades - will continue to grow in renown and influence. 

A documentary film about Levine titled Feast of Pure Reason was made in 1989. He died at his home in Manhattan, New York on November 8, 2010 at the age of 95. It can be rented here: http://vimeo.com/42791172

 

Read more about Jack Levine in Samantha Baskind's "Midrash and the Jewish American Experience in Jack Levine's Planning Solomon's Temple," in Ars Judiaca (2007), available here.

 

Tuesday, September 15, 2020

Getting Ready for Its Close-Up: Former Temple Freda in Bryan, Texas, to be Restored

Bryan, Texas. Temple Freda. Texas A & M Center for Heritage Conservation.

Bryan, Texas. Temple Freda. Photo: Brazos Heritage Society.

Bryan, Texas. Temple Freda. Interior in 1950s. Photo courtesy of Brazos Heritage Society.

Getting Ready for Its Close-Up: Former Temple Freda in Bryan, Texas, to be Restored

By Samuel D. Gruber

When the cornerstone of Temple Freda in Bryan, Texas was laid in 1913, the local newspaper wrote:

the synagogue is a neat little brick structure, modern in design, and when completed will be a monument to the pluck, energy and enterprise of those Jewish citizens who now reside in Bryan, and who are responsible and have the credit for its erection.” (The Eagle, Feb 17, 1913).   

The once “neat” but now deteriorated building has not been used for Jewish worship for more than half century, but now it getting a second lease on life.

In 2020, the restoration of Temple Freda in Bryan, Texas and its re-purposing as a public community space continues to move forward as part of multi-year effort by local preservationists and the City of Bryan. In 2017 the nascent restoration project received a $40,000 matching grant from the Texas Historical Commission, which enabled a start to the project. With additional support from a city Downtown improvement grant, the building was stabilized. Faculty and students from the Center for Heritage Conservation at the College of Architecture of nearby Texas A &M documented the preservation needs of the structure and prepared a full preservation plan and detailed digital model illustrating the building’s deterioration in 2018. The building has previously been documented by Texas A&M architecture students who helped list the structure on the National Register of Historic Places in 1983 and the Texas A & M team also created measured drawings for the Historic American Building Survey (HABS).

The city of Bryan now owns and cares for the Temple Freda property, but the plan is for an existing or new nonprofit organization to take on ownership and oversee the temple’s long-term management.

The small but nimble Brazos Heritage Society, a volunteer organization education and advocacy organization, has partnered with the city to raise awareness and help raise funds, and efforts are underway to fund Phase II. 

On October 27, the Brazos Heritage Society plans to participate in Brazos Valley Gives, a community-wide fundraising campaign for local non-profits. The goal is to raise at least $150,000 for the Temple Freda project.

To donate to the project go to https://www.brazosheritage.org/temple-freda-restoration-phase-i-b or you can participate in the Brazos Valley Gives campaign at https://www.brazosvalleygives.org/ on October 27. All donations received during Brazos Valley Gives are earmarked for Temple Freda.


Bryan, Texas. Temple Freda. Exterior elevation by
Texas A & M courtesy HABS.

Back in a blogpost of 2009, I mentioned Temple Freda Reform Congregation of Bryant, Texas, as a rare Jewish synagogue named after a woman. The Temple was named at its dedication for Mrs. Ethel Freda Kaczer, the recently deceased wife of the congregation's president.

I'm still interested in the building – now for several other reasons. For the last few years as part of a project with the College of Charleston, I’ve been researching synagogues and Jewish architects in the South. The modest but attractive Temple Freda building of 1912-13 is important as one of the few surviving Classical-style synagogues in Texas from that period between 1900 and 1930 when the Classical impulse was so widespread in the South. Temple Freda is a modest – but fine – example.

Bryan, Texas. Temple Freda. Photo: Larry D. Moore 2012 (Wikipedia).
    

Bryan, Texas. Temple Freda. Photo: Texas A & M Center for Heritage Conservation.

The International Survey of Jewish Monuments has also been busy inventorying American synagogue stained glass. Typical of period and style, Temple Freda has a fine set of stained-glass windows, too.

Bryan, Texas. Temple Freda. Stained-glass window. Photo: Brazos Heritage Society.

Importantly, I recently (re)learned that the building is almost certainly an early design by the Austrian-born Jewish architect Joseph Finger, who arrived in Houston in 1908 and was soon junior partner in the firm of Green & Finger (with Lewis Sterling Green), which, according to The Tradesman received the contract Temple in 1912.

Bryan TX. Temple Freda congregation has let the contract to Walter Cook of Houston for the erection of a brick synagogue. The plans for the building were prepared by Green and Finger, architects of Houston." (The Tradesman, October 24, 1912).

As the Jewish junior partner Finger was probably in charge. I have not yet found out much about architect Lewis Green. It is possible that he was Jewish, too, and thus gave the newly arrived Austrian immigrant his first professional position. Finger soon moved on to form his own firm which over many decades had great success.

He would go on to be a leading architect in interwar Houston, and nationally one of the most successful Jewish architects of the first half of the 20th century.  In synagogue architecture, he is best known for his 1926 Temple Beth Israel in Houston (now Heinen Theater of Houston Community College). This structure, built for Finger’s own congregation, was designed in a robust classical style. In 1935, Finger also designed the Temple of Rest Mausoleum for Beth Israel (where he himself is interred) in an Art Deco style. It is a fascinating to add Temple Freda to this progression through stages of “Jewish” classicism as a study of Finger’s development, but also as lens on American Jewish tastes and aspirations of the time.

Houston, Texas. Temple Israel. Joseph Finger, architect. Pencil Points, February 1933

Temple Freda is a fine example of a small classical style Reform Temple in the American South. As I have previously, the classical style became a new architectural “brand” for the Reform Movement after around 1900. More ornate versions built before World War I can be found across the south, but the style persisted and in 1917 we find, for example, the near-contemporary B’nai Israel synagogue in Spartanburg, South Carolina, similar to Temple Freda in many ways.  In Texas, there were several examples of Classical-style synagogues built in this period. Most, such as Houston’s Temple Beth Israel (1908), have been demolished and replaced by newer buildings. The former B’nai Zion in El Paso, built in 1912 in a style that mixed Greek and Gothic, has been used as church since 1927 and is well maintained.

Houston, Texas. Temple Beth Israel (1908). Photo courtesy William Rosenthall Collection, College of Charleston Special Collection.
El Paso, Texas. Former B’nai Zion (1912). Photo: Rogelio Rivero Cagigas / Wikipedia

History

Jews probably settled in Bryan in the 1860's. As in most contemporary communities, they met in member’s homes for worship. In 1912, land was sold by local businessman J.W. English, a member of St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church, for the token sum of $10 to the Jewish community with the stipulation that the land be used exclusively for “religious or benevolent purposes.”

The cornerstone-laying ceremony followed the masonic ritual which was standard practice in the South and much of the country. Construction moved quickly, and the dedication took place on May 20, 1913 with an assembly of rabbis and Texas dignitaries. The Eagle wrote that the Temple:

has been completed, standing forth in its beauty and symmetry, and was on last night dedicated, in a beautiful, sacred and solemn service, to the worship of the true and living God. The house was filled to overflowing by the members of the congregation, their guests from other cities, and their friends in Bryan, either to witness or take part in the dedication service, typifying in their coming together the spirit of brotherly love and Christian fellowship existing in Brian between the different denominations, nationalities and religious beliefs.”

Rabbi Henry Barnstein of Temple Beth El in Houston and Rabbi Henry Cohen of Congregation B'nai Israel in Galveston presided. The newspaper gave a full account and summarized and quoted much of Rabbi Cohen’s address.

Read more about the Jewish history of Bryan here.

Much of the Temple’s construction material was also donated by local citizens. The modest rectangular building was completed within a year. Its most distinctive feature is the Greek aedicula-type entrance way, with a pressed metal entablature and pediment surmounting two wooden Corinthian columns with plaster capitals. A plaque with the name “Temple Freda” is inserted in the wall beneath the portico, above the double entrance doors. The Parker Street facade has nicely detailed tan brick walls beneath a pressed metal classical entablature. The side and rear walls are red brick.

The brick walls, metal decorative elements, and wooden columns are all in need of repair.

Inside the arrangement was austere – a small vestibule flanked by restrooms opens to a simple rectangular hall, where the floor gently slopes to the bimah at the far end opposite the entrance. But the entire space was embellished with a series of simple but elegant stained-glass windows which prided a cool and calming light for the space. Many of these are memorial windows donated by congregants. There is a pressed metal ceiling, and a small meeting room is located at the back.  Few flanked a central aisle.

Bryan, Texas. Temple Freda. Interior. Photo: Timothy Hurst / The Eagle.

Bryan, Texas. Temple Freda. Exterior elevation by
Texas A & M courtesy HABS.






Despite the joyous dedication in 1913, the congregation struggled to survive, especially after the onset of the Great Depression in the 1930s. Despite a brief boom during World War II, decline continued until the move to College Station. As in many small towns, there was never a full-time rabbi.

That congregation has moved on. The building stopped serving as a regular Jewish house of worship back in the 1950s. Many of the congregants, and certainly almost all newly arriving Jews in the area, were affiliated with Texas A & M University; they began to attend a new Hillel synagogue on campus at nearby College Station. In 1968 Congregation Beth Shalom, was formed to serve the Jewish community of the Brazos Valley. Beth Shalom, which since 1990 is housed in a modest and attractive mid-century brick former church building, includes many Temple Freda members and maintains Temple Freda's Cemetery.

Bryan, Texas. Temple Beth Shalom, 101 North Coulter Drive. Photo: Google Streetscapes.

Bryan, Texas. Temple Beth Shalom, 101 North Coulter Drive. Photo: Courtesy of Larry Dangott and Congregation Beth Shalom via Julian Preisler.

After regular Jewish use of Temple Freda ended, it was maintained for the congregation by a Texas A & M physicist William Bassichis, and for many decades served as an available public space often used by small congregations of various faiths. But without regular maintenance and some major repairs, the structure decayed. In 2013, amidst a boom in Downtown redevelopment, the citizens’ group “Friends of Temple Freda” was formed to save the building. Bassichis ceded management to the City of Bryan during the restoration process which after a period of organization, began in earnest in 2017.

For now, the stained-glass windows (some of which had already been damaged due to neglect or vandalism) and original furnishings have been removed for safe keeping while the building is stabilized and restoration work proceeds to repair the roof, reinforce the brick walls, and secure the overall exterior water handling  envelop.  Mechanical systems will also be upgraded as part of the restoration.

Bryan, Texas. Temple Freda. Photo: Brazos Heritage Society.

When restored, the building follow the path of many other rescued religious and public buildings around the country and serve as a venue for weddings, receptions, educational events, concerts, and more. In this, they will follow the example of "Save the Temple Committee" in Corsicana, which saved the synagogue there for community use back in 1987. Though no one could have predicted it at the time, that wonderful Moorish style building, which was re-furbished as secular space, now sometimes serves again as a place of Jewish worship, too.

Read more here: https://www.brazosheritage.org/temple-freda-history

 

Monday, June 1, 2020

San Diego's Second Beth Israel Synagogue; now Home to Ohr Shalom

San Diego, California. 2512 Third Ave. at Laurel. Ohr Shalom Synagogue (formerly 2nd home of Congregation Beth Israel). William H. Wheeler, architect, 1926. Photo: Samuel Gruber 2007.
San Diego, California. 2512 Third Ave. at Laurel. Ohr Shalom Synagogue (formerly 2nd home of Congregation Beth Israel). William H. Wheeler, architect, 1926. Photo: Samuel Gruber 2016.
San Diego, California. 2512 Third Ave. at Laurel. Ohr Shalom Synagogue (formerly 2nd home of Congregation Beth Israel). William H. Wheeler, architect, 1926. Sanctuary stained-glass window, dtl. Photo: Samuel Gruber 2016.
San Diego, California. 2512 Third Ave. at Laurel. Ohr Shalom Synagogue (formerly 2nd home of Congregation Beth Israel). William H. Wheeler, architect, 1926. Sanctuary stained-glass window, dtl. Photo: Samuel Gruber 2016.
San Diego, California. 2512 Third Ave. at Laurel. Ohr Shalom Synagogue (formerly 2nd home of Congregation Beth Israel). Stained-glass window in vestibule, dtl.  Photo: Samuel Gruber 2016.

San Diego's Second Beth Israel Synagogue; now Home to Ohr Shalom Synagogue

by Samuel Gruber
 
[post edited and updated August 9, 2020]

Several years ago I reported on the first structure built for Congregation Beth Israel in San Diego, the first purpose-built synagogue in San Diego, which was moved in 1977 to Heritage Park and restored. 

The congregation has had two subsequent homes, both notable structures. The second synagogue at Third & Laurel Streets, which has been described as Byzantine-Moorish in style, was dedicated in 1926 and used by Beth Israel until the congregation moved to a new much larger facility.

With additions, Third & Laurel (as the Temple was known), eventually occupied a full city block, much of which included a school building designed in 1961 by noted Southern California architect William Krisel, which while not designated historic, is a distinctive mid-century modern design. After a sometimes contentious but eventually amicable preservation initiative, Beth Israel was able to realize significant income from sale of the Third and Laurel properties, but fortunately the most architecturally and culturally significant elements were preserved for Jewish purpose. Conservative congregation Ohr Shalom purchased the sanctuary and the social building in 2002 for that growing congregation's new home.

Ohr Shalom subsequently raised funds to complete a $4.2 million renovation and restoration in 2010 that brought the building up to earthquake-resistant safety levels, replaced out-dated mechanical systems, and refurbished and restored many of the building's historic architectural and decorative details. Among these are a series of brilliantly colored stained glass windows. These windows were highly prized by the Beth Israel congregation for their artistic and sentimental value but were left in situ for the new congregation. Replicas, very close in design to the originals, however, were created to adorn the chapel in the New Beth El complex at University City (see below). Stained-glass windows in the sanctuary vestibule, which has previously been hidden, were also revealed in the restoration.

The congregant and citizen-led effort to save the old sanctuary is described in an article here, written by esteemed local Jewish historians Laurel and Stanley Schwartz who were actively engaged in this effort and also created a richly documented permanent historical exhibitions at the new Beth Israel synagogue complex.

San Diego, California. 2512 Third Ave. at Laurel. Ohr Shalom Synagogue (formerly 2nd home of Congregation Beth Israel). William H. Wheeler, architect, 1926. Original entrance. Photo: Samuel Gruber 2016.
San Diego, California. 2512 Third Ave. at Laurel. Ohr Shalom Synagogue (formerly 2nd home of Congregation Beth Israel). William H. Wheeler, architect, 1926. Original entrance stained glass. Photo: Samuel Gruber 2016.
San Diego, California. 2512 Third Ave. at Laurel. Ohr Shalom Synagogue (formerly 2nd home of Congregation Beth Israel). William H. Wheeler, architect, 1926. Original entrance stained glass. Photo: Samuel Gruber 2016. Photo: Richard Schulte (from web).
The structure was designed by William H. Wheeler, who was also architect of San Diego's Balboa Theater and many other buildings in the area. Wheeler was originally from Australia and had settled in San Francisco. After surviving the 1906 earthquake there, he moved to San Diego, studied engineering and pursued a successful architectural career. In August 1925, the congregation awarded a contract to M. Trepte and Son for $69,300 to build the new temple. The Byzantine style domed sanctuary and adjoining synagogue center was dedicated on May 14, 1926. The total cost was $100,000.

According to Stanley and Laurel Schwartz, "Wheeler was a prolific architect in San Diego and elsewhere. Among his most notable buildings are the Balboa Theatre at Horton Plaza, recently restored and in use, and also on the National Register of Historic Places; the Church of the Immaculate Conception in Old Town, a vital part of the local parish; the All Saints Episcopal Church in Hillcrest; the Klauber-Wangenheim Building in downtown San Diego; and the Governor’s Palace in Mexicali".

It is not surprising in this period to find synagogue architects who were also theater architects, as the interior arrangement of theaters and Reform temples were similar, and most of the design problems - seating capacity and sight lines, acoustics, and natural and artificial lighting, were the same. Not surprisingly, many former synagogues of this period have been reused as theaters and performance centers in Seattle, Detroit, Milwaukee, Cleveland and elsewhere.

Domed synagogues in some variation of the Byzantine style were popular at the time, as at Boston's Ohabei ShalomChicago's Temple Isaiah, Detroit's Shaaray Zedek and a little closer to home, Los Angeles's Wilshire Boulevard Temple. The sanctuary at 3rd and Laurel was octagonal, which was unusual but not unheard of for a synagogue, especially in the 1920s. When the Byzantine style often allowed the inscribing of an octagon inside a square plan. Contemporary synagogue sanctuaries in Erie and Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, for example, were also octagonal.


San Diego, California. 2512 Third Ave. at Laurel. Ohr Shalom Synagogue (formerly 2nd home of Congregation Beth Israel). Sanctuary dome oculus stained glass. Photo: Samuel Gruber 2016.
We do not know what influenced William Wheeler or the congregation in 3rd and Laurel design. Many architects and congregations also reached into an older bag of purportedly Jewish motifs and pulled out variations of Moorish-style decoration that had been popular from the 1860s through the 1880s, and was making a resurgence in the 1920s. In the 1920s, however, the Moorish style, was much more common in the lavish decoration of movie palaces than for synagogues, or in the stylized Art Deco ornament of commercial buildings. The style's suggestion of "Orientalism" did, however, take on new meaning in the 1920s in the aftermath of the Balfour Declaration and the growing popularity of Zionism. This look eastward to Palestine was, however, mostly restricted to the Orthodox and Conservative communities, as seen best in the 1928 Moorish-Art Deco architectural mix of Zysman Hall of Yeshiva College (now University) on Washington Heights in New York.

For the leadership of the Reform Movement, Zionism was seen as essentially un-American. Even for those who supported Jewish settlement in Palestine, risked  accusations of dual loyalties or disloyalty to America. Reform leaders, who for decades had encouraged assimilation, feared (rightly so) that embrace of Zionism would encourage American antisemitism. Popular attitudes would begin to change as antisemitism rose in Europe in the 1930s and as antisemitism rose in America, too, for reasons not related to Zionism. Most Reform leaders also rejected the once-popular Moorish style for new synagogue (temple) buildings in favor of classicism, which was also less associated with the architecture of escapism and fantasy (movie theaters and amusement parks). In the 1920s Reform Jews increasingly accepted the Byzantine style
which while new to America, was less exotic than Moorish, and also had some functional advantages.

Prominent Jewish architects Arnold W. Brunner and Alfred Alschuler justified their preference for the classical (Brunner) and then the Byzantine (Alschuler) styles as appropriate for synagogue design on the basis of the discovery of ancient synagogues, but also both styles more closely fit into American mainstream architectural styles of the time than the Moorish. The Byzantine style could also be highly decorative. Though 3rd and Laurel has been described as Moorish in style, there are actual few traces in that style in the design. The massing, the wall treatments, the dome, and even the windows are more in keeping with the popular Byzantine style of the 1920s. Only the pointed arches of the corner "tower" windows at the entrance, and the richness of the some of the  decorative panels, suggest the Moorish style, but these are mostly subsumed into the broad "Byzantine" aesthetic.

 


San Diego, California. 2512 Third Ave. at Laurel. Ohr Shalom Synagogue (formerly 2nd home of Congregation Beth Israel). Sanctuary as it appeared c. 1950. Photo: Temple Beth Israel (from historical exhibit).
San Diego, California. 2512 Third Ave. at Laurel. Ohr Shalom Synagogue (formerly 2nd home of Congregation Beth Israel). Sanctuary redone ca. 1950.  Photo: Jewish Historical Society of San Diego.


San Diego, California. 2512 Third Ave. at Laurel. Ohr Shalom Synagogue (formerly 2nd home of Congregation Beth Israel). Sanctuary looking at north window.  North window. Photo: Samuel Gruber 2016.

 
San Diego, California. 2512 Third Ave. at Laurel. Ohr Shalom Synagogue (formerly 2nd home of Congregation Beth Israel). Sanctuary looking at north window.  North window. Photo: Samuel Gruber 2016.

San Diego, California. 2512 Third Ave. at Laurel. Ohr Shalom Synagogue (formerly 2nd home of Congregation Beth Israel). Bimah.  Photo: Samuel Gruber 2016.

San Diego, California. 2512 Third Ave. at Laurel. Ohr Shalom Synagogue (formerly 2nd home of Congregation Beth Israel). Sanctuary, view of balcony and south window.  North window. Photo: Samuel Gruber 2016.

Stained-Glass Windows

The 3rd and Laurel synagogue is notable for its stained-glass windows. Before additions were made to the building these were brilliantly lit by natural light. The visitor encounters the window even before entering the building, since the entrance tympanum consists of a stained-glass window in which the Ten Commandants float on a blue glass field. As Jenna Weissman Joselit has documented in her book Set in Stone: America's Embrace of the Ten Commandments, representation of the Ten Commandments was ubiquitous in America in the 1920s. The Decalogue was a standard element on many synagogue exteriors, but this is a rare (unique?) instance of stained-glass over the portal. Other stained-glass windows from the vestibule fronted onto the facade, and these large windows were the main decorative features on the otherwise white exterior, where they read as almost solid blue windows set into the white walls.

The windows throughout the building are mostly made of grids of small panes of opalescent glass with variations of light blue the dominant color.

The two large stained-glass windows of the sanctuary each consist of a tripartite window within a single arched opening. Each of the three "lights" is keyhole shaped, with a rectangular lower section and a spade-shaped top. At the very bottom are small horizontal panels that might have been intended for memorial inscriptions but were left empty. Most of the windows are the simple grid-pattern of opalescent panes. In the upper part of each rectangle is a small emblem. The center section is higher and wider. In the top part of each section are symbols, some immediately recognizable as Jewish but others less certain. On the south window the emblems include an etrog and lulav in the center, a snake on the left and a banner on the right. Above are seven-branched menorahs on each side and in the top center a dove surmounting a tree-trunk with a bit of vine.


 San Diego, California. 2512 Third Ave. at Laurel. Ohr Shalom Synagogue (formerly 2nd home of Congregation Beth Israel). Dtl of stained-glass window in sanctuary. Etrog and lulav. Photo: Samuel Gruber 2016.
 

San Diego, California. 2512 Third Ave. at Laurel. Ohr Shalom Synagogue (formerly 2nd home of Congregation Beth Israel). Dtl of stained-glass window in sanctuary. Photo: Samuel Gruber 2016.

The dove and the banner can have Jewish meaning. Although I'm not sure of the origins of these symbols; to me they seem to be adapted from a Christian symbol book. While the dove could represent the bird sent out by Noah after the flood, resting on a tree with ivy, symbolizing renewal, or representing peace or a Temple offering, it could also refer in Christian terms to the dove of the holy spirit, and tree trunk with the vine would represent death and resurrection, and the grouping of three leaves the Christian Trinity. The other emblems used are equally enigmatic. The snake could refer to the staff of Moses or the Brazen serpent, but snakes are mostly disparaged in Judaism and are rarely represented in a positive light. The meaning of the banner is also unclear. True, the Israelites upon gaining freedom after the Exodus are said to have raised banners, but this is rarely represented. Again, in Christian terms the snake would be Satan and the banner representative of Christ's victory through resurrection.

Similarly, on the north wall it is nice to think of the central chalice as a kiddush cup, and certainly the symbol of the Torah scroll is explicitly Jewish and appropriate for a synagogue as the House of Prayer and the House of Study.  But the other emblems on this window were not clear to me. The central chalice, it is an unusual central symbol in Jewish context, but in Christian terms it would be the wine used at the mass, seen through transubstantiation as the actual blood of Christ, and thus a symbol of his sacrifice and resurrection. This would hardly be the first time when a Christian architect and a Christian stained glass studio adapted themes they were familiar with from Church decoration for Jewish use. It's actually an artistic practice with centuries of precedent in the creation of fine Judaica. I'll write more about this another time.

 
San Diego, California. 2512 Third Ave. at Laurel. Ohr Shalom Synagogue (formerly 2nd home of Congregation Beth Israel). Stained-glass window restored in 2010.  Photo: Samuel Gruber 2016.

San Diego, California. 2512 Third Ave. at Laurel. Ohr Shalom Synagogue (formerly 2nd home of Congregation Beth Israel). Sanctuary "kiddush cup" window, 1926, restored 2010.  Photo: Samuel Gruber 2016.

I have not seen original plans for the building, but it seems it was designed with four two-story corner tower-like spaces that were lit by stained glass. These can still be seen on the east and south street facades. The windows were mostly made of groups of rectangular panels of opalescent glass, mostly of blue and white, bound with narrow glass borders of a darker amber color. In the upper parts, however, each window set had two roundels, each with a sign of one of the 12 Tribes of Israel. I was able to see roundels of Reuven, Zebulun, Judah, Levi, and Issachar. The Reuven and Zebulun roundels were painted as a landscape and seascape (with boat) in a loose style, reminiscent of watercolor, in keeping with the popular Arts and Crafts taste. Judah and Issachar are more traditionally and finely painted images of animals - the lion and the "strong-boned ass". The sign for Levi is an unusual depiction of two cross swords. The artists were no-doubt professionals at the (unknown) stained glass studio, and there is at least one misspelling in Hebrew labels.

San Diego, California. 2512 Third Ave. at Laurel. Ohr Shalom Synagogue (formerly 2nd home of Congregation Beth Israel). Stained-glass window in vestibule restored in 2010.  Photo: Samuel Gruber 2016.

San Diego, California. 2512 Third Ave. at Laurel. Ohr Shalom Synagogue (formerly 2nd home of Congregation Beth Israel). Stained-glass window in vestibule, dtl.  Photo: Samuel Gruber 2016.

San Diego, California. 2512 Third Ave. at Laurel. Ohr Shalom Synagogue (formerly 2nd home of Congregation Beth Israel). Stained-glass window in vestibule, dtl.  Photo: Samuel Gruber 2016.   
San Diego, California. 2512 Third Ave. at Laurel. Ohr Shalom Synagogue (formerly 2nd home of Congregation Beth Israel). Stained-glass window in vestibule, dtl.  Photo: Samuel Gruber 2016.





San Diego, California. 2512 Third Ave. at Laurel. Ohr Shalom Synagogue (formerly 2nd home of Congregation Beth Israel). Stained-glass window in vestibule, dtl.  Photo: Samuel Gruber 2016.


San Diego, California. 2512 Third Ave. at Laurel. Ohr Shalom Synagogue (formerly 2nd home of Congregation Beth Israel). Stained glass window in vestibule restored in 2010.  Photo: Samuel Gruber 2016.
San Diego, California. 2512 Third Ave. at Laurel. Ohr Shalom Synagogue (formerly 2nd home of Congregation Beth Israel). Stained-glass window in vestibule, dtl.  Photo: Samuel Gruber 2016.

San Diego, California. 2512 Third Ave. at Laurel. Ohr Shalom Synagogue (formerly 2nd home of Congregation Beth Israel). Stained-glass window in vestibule, dtl.  Photo: Samuel Gruber 2016

Replicas of Windows in New Synagogue Chapel

The stained glass windows of 3rd and Laurel were beloved by the congregation. The decision was made, however, to leave them for the new congregation. While more contemporary stained glass windows are in the new sanctuary built on Towne Centre Drive, on the edge of University City, dedicated in October 2001, near replicas were made and placed in the domed Foster Family Chapel.

 
 San Diego, CA. Congregation Beth Israel, 3rd building, University City. Stained-glass windows in Foster Family Chapel, 2001. Photo: Samuel Gruber 2016.

 
 San Diego, CA. Congregation Beth Israel, 3rd building, University City. Stained-glass windows in Foster Family Chapel, 2001. Photo: Samuel Gruber 2016.

To read more about the history of Temple Beth Israel see: 

A Time to Remember: The First 150 Years, A History of Congregation Beth Israel in San Diego (San Diego: Congregation Beth Israel, 2012). 

Online at: and "House Calls: Making a religion of historic preservation"