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ELKINS PARK, Pa. (RNS) — Sixty years ago this week, just before the Jewish High Holy Days, members of a Conservative synagogue processed into their new sanctuary, marking a new era in their congregational life and in modern religious architecture.
The only synagogue designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, Beth Sholom Synagogue still stands six decades later in this suburb north of Philadelphia as both a house of prayer and an unusual, functioning piece of art.
Design - Place - Scriptures - Commandments - Moses
Recalling in its design the place where Scriptures say the Ten Commandments were given to Moses, Beth Sholom is lesser known than the Guggenheim Museum in New York, Fallingwater or his other landmark creations. It nevertheless attracts those who are aware of its connections to the famous architect, and Wright himself saw it in cosmic terms.
“The design for Beth Sholom has taken the supreme moment of Jewish history and experience,” said Wright at the time, “the revelation of God to Israel through Moses on Mount Sinai, and translated that moment with all its significance into a design of beauty and reverence.
Word - Building - Mount - Sinai - Israel
“In a word, the building is Mount Sinai, where Israel first encountered God.”
The synagogue’s exotic geometric shape, which appears atop a rise and around a bend as drivers approach it along Old York Road, was suggested by Beth Shalom’s then-Rabbi Mortimer J. Cohen as “a dream and hope in my heart” to Wright in a 1953 letter. Wright responded to Cohen, whose letter included a rough sketch of his idea, beginning a close bond the two men developed mostly through correspondence.
Dialogue - Building - Period - Joseph - M
“They had a very long, sustained dialogue about this building over a six-year period,” said Joseph M. Siry, author of the 2011 book “Beth Sholom Synagogue: Frank Lloyd Wright and Modern Religious Architecture.”
Wright would eventually grant Cohen the title of co-designer. The architect, a Unitarian...
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