Campus Expansion Project
New Radiance. New Song. NEW SPACE.
Rejoicing in our new Sanctuary
Judaism has a lovely way of embracing the oneness and wholeness of everything while simultaneously making beautiful distinctions between things: the sacred and the everyday, Shabbat and the rest of the week, childhood and adulthood, a hallah cover and a parokhet (curtain in the Ark). Jewish thresholds and rituals play an important role in amplifying our awareness of important transitions, life and Torah cycles and the passage of time and seasons.
The Shema describes how we are to mark our doorposts with mezuzot, so as to be reminded of our sacred purpose each time we pass through a portal. At the entry to the Sanctuary, the concept of “mezuzah”, is expanded beyond the placement of a contained text on the door jamb. Here, the doors themselves and the vestibule inside provide an opportunity to shift one’s state of mind as they gently rise and elevate toward reflection and kavanah. Ceiling heights along this ceremonial path “inhale and exhale” low to high, creating an intimate human scale while also suggesting transcendence through transition. The art glass of the entry doors, like the central Shamayim skylight, recalls a tallit pattern in the repetition of two words: Beth Am, House of The People. A mirroring of these words hints to the geometry of the central vault inside. Metal yuds that serve as the entry and ark door pulls recall the Pressman Ark and the mirrored yuds of an aleph, together suggesting the eternal connection between the sacred and the everyday. At the main entry portal, the mezuzah incorporates stained glass from the windows that were once the backdrop of the bimah. The carpeting suggests the knots and fringes of tzitzit, the garments of prayer.
The space for the Torah scrolls and Neviim is one that can be entered and occupied such that each time one reaches for a scroll, one is, in fact, surrounded by sacred texts. The scrolls are nested in their own containers, glowing with light. The Ark doors and screen are made from hundreds of resin tablets. There are three types: one marries the letters “bet” and “lamed” the first and last letters of the Torah that together make the word “lev” (heart); another includes the letter “shin” evoking “Shaddai” (The Almighty, one of the names of God); and the third recalls the yuds in the doors of the Pressman Ark. These tablets, with their golden band, are arrayed to evoke the Kiddush Cup composition of the original stained glass. Each of the yud tablets also contains five cylindrical voids — places where congregants can write and insert their prayers, wishes and dreams. This ritual recalls the long-standing tradition of slipping folded notes into The Kotel. Above, the Ner Tamid glows in the upper right pillar of the Ark.
This poignant, light-filled space is reimagined and repositioned near the Sanctuary. One walks alongside it upon entering the prayer space, and, in doing so, walks beside our past before entering the Sanctuary — a place that bridges past, present and future.
This space is filled with two kinds of light: one that comes from below and one that comes from above. Yahrzeit plaques will eventually line the perimeter of the room on three sides. Here the names of those who came or departed before us will glow, shimmer and float behind a sacred parokhet, lit from below, where we stand and where they once stood beside us. A bed of stones separates and connects the living and the deceased, recalling the ancient tradition that began with Abraham of piling (leaving) stones by a loved one’s grave. Yahrzeits will be marked with a tassel reminiscent of the single tzitzit cut from a tallit before burial.
The 4th side of The Hall carries the weight and tragedy of the Holocaust Wall that once flanked the Temple Beth Am bimah. Here, the rough texture of this relief stands in sharp contrast to the smooth adjacent surfaces, representing the brutality of this genocide. The light along this side of the room shines from above. Portions of The Wall are buried in the floor evoking open graves or, perhaps, g’nizot.
54 etched glass panels, each a unique expression of the weekly Torah portions, surround and hold the congregation. They, too, glow and sparkle with light. The words and patterns in each representation carry subtle layers of meaning distilled from the Torah portions themselves, as well as numerous ancient and contemporary parsha commentaries. The intent was for each illuminated manuscript to employ a degree of reductive abstraction so that the focus is on the primacy of words rather than images. The hope is that they will be accessible to readers and viewers in numerous ways, such that the meanings of the panels will both be open to interpretation and discovery and also prompt questions (a very Jewish disposition), just as the Torah portions themselves challenge us to do.
Upon entering the layered, concentric spaces of the Sanctuary, one is greeted with the warm embrace of wood-clad walls, a suspended wood-slat ceiling, and circles and alcoves of pews and linked chairs. Here, the curved walls, ceiling and seats of the Sanctuary are meant to hug and hold the congregation. If they could speak, they’d say, in a heimish tone, “barukh haba”.
As one moves through, reflects and davvens in the Sanctuary, one might also be struck by the quality of light in this sacred space — a distinct light that feels special, different from the light we appreciate every day. It shines through skylights arrayed around the perimeter of the room and in the center, washing walls with a gentle glow and casting whimsical strokes across wood, fabric, plaster and glass surfaces. The central skylight shapes an ever-changing pattern of light and shadow, recalling a billowing tallit slung over the shoulders before Shaharit or stretched above the congregation like a huppah in the wind. These gentle, dappled patterns and lines of light and glows give the space an ethereal and spiritual quality. Light does not just shine through a window or skylight: it becomes an occupant of, and participant in, the space. It has a presence, like The Shekhinah.
-Susan Hetsroni, TBA Immediate Past President
Great stories are ones with universal truths unpacked through challenges and triumphs. They portray individual empowerment and inspire our own actions - to have a lasting impact far into the future and greater than ourselves.
These elements are woven into the story of the Holocaust Memorial Wall at Temple Beth Am, its preservation and its legacy.
Temple Beth Am back in the 1960s was planted on La Cienega Boulevard in the center of modern Jewish Life in Los Angeles, with Rabbi Jacob Pressman as its standard-bearing leader. A master of so many things, Rabbi Pressman, along with a cadre of powerful lay leaders created the first-of-its kind Holocaust Memorial inside the former sanctuary at Temple Beth Am. It may have been the only monument of its kind inside a sanctuary space.
Many of the lay leaders of the time were accomplished businessmen, many of whom were survivors of the horrors of Germany’s concentration camps in Poland. Their stories of survival were legendary, as are most stories of survival. And their triumphs included establishing themselves anew and fueling an expansive Jewish life on American soil. They created for themselves great success and became industrious inventors, manufacturers, builders of California, builders of Israel, and supporters of Temple Beth Am and Rabbi Jacob Pressman. A powerful combination. Chief among them was Nathan Shapell z”l, TBA President at the time, who served as Chair of the Memorial Wall project.
The massive Holocaust Memorial Wall was brought to life by artist Perli Pelzig whose evocative creation intended to echo the Western Wall in Jerusalem, with the names of Concentration Camps carved into the stones as if by perishing souls. The wall was of monumental scale and haunting intention. It was a powerful backdrop to Jewish life renewed and revived. A larger than life testament to memory and survival. At the time of its dedication in 1966, Rabbi Pressman reached out to world leaders to participate in the dedication itself. In the Temple Beth Am archives there are impressive responses: from President Harry S. Truman, Rev. Martin Luther King, and a handwritten note from Israel’s Prime Minster at the time David Ben Gurion. (A copy of this letter is now held at the David Ben Gurion Museum in Israel). The Dedication of this memorial, chaired by Edward Colman, Al Berg and Eli Rembaum, was a moment in international history. The preservation of the Holocaust Memorial Wall became a paramount issue in redesigning the sanctuary. And the Wall itself began its own journey of survival.
The original plan was to relocate the wall in its entirety to a new location on the Temple Beth Am campus. While that challenge percolated, our architect, Steve Rajninger of Herman Coliver Locus, designed a space adjacent to the new sanctuary to house both the Holocaust Wall and a new Hall of Memories – a sacred space on its own yet connected to the communal experience of the sacred. A space to contemplate and to remember. Uplifting in a way.
As plans to move forward with the Holocaust Wall/ Hall of Memories attached to the sanctuary were solidified, explorations of cost and feasibility were underway. It became clear that the wall would not survive dismantling and relocating; it was cemented in place over 50 years ago.
Restoration experts were brought in to create an exact replica of the Holocaust Wall and elements surrounding it. They created test molds and quality checks until they succeeded in creating a perfect reproduction of the original installation. Some pieces of the original wall, including the dedication stones were successfully installed in the floor of the new space, lending a powerful new dimension to the sacred experience in this new Hall of Memories.
The rescue effort and spectacular revitalization of the Holocaust Memorial at Temple Beth Am was made possible by tireless efforts of Dvorah Colker and the generous support of donors.
Please take your time in the Holocaust
Memorial/Hall of Memories. Your
experience will be one of sacred
contemplation and universal truths of
life mentioned before: loss, life, survival,
renewal, tragedy and triumph. Pay attention to the elements that surround and engulf you – light, sound, the river rock lining, the massive Holocaust Wall together with the individual memorial plaques for our own loved ones. The sound of Jewish life, prayer and celebration floating in from the sanctuary. It is a place to frame ourselves and place our Jewish life on a continuum of history and of personal experience. And this is the lead-in to the sanctuary where we must infuse the future with optimism. Wide-awake and deeply spiritual.
The new Holocaust Memorial and Hall of Memories is a brilliant and inspired installation. It will have an impact on communal and individual sacred experience far into the future. What a great story.
Our current Hall of Memories, the intimate space just off our lobby, was dedicated in the early 1990s by Larry and Elaine Friedman, in memory of their beloved son Robert. We thank and honor the Friedmans for choosing to link their loved one’s memory with tzedakah by helping to create a space for everyone to honor the memory of their own departed loved ones. Hundreds of TBA members have spent thousands of sacred moments accessing memories of loved ones in that space.
Our new Ganzberg Sanctuary presented an opportunity to reenvision and rebuild our Hall of Memories, incorporating into it the Holocaust Memorial from the Pressman Sanctuary, which for decades was an unmistakable marker of TBA’s primary prayer space. The architectural firm we hired to design our sanctuary, Herman Coliver Locus, is renowned for award-winning and heart-touching design of sacred spaces, including versions of the Hall of Memories, in sanctuaries around the country. When they shared with us their vision for a rededicated Hall of Memories, in an honored space within our new sanctuary itself, we were moved and we were convinced. As you walk into the new sanctuary, the new Hall of Memories, dedicated in memory of Howard Pilch, will be just off to your left, in its own intimate nook. You will feel that you are in sacred space. And you will also be transported powerfully into a space that honors the memory of loved ones we knew and those we only know about. We are confident that all those who step into this Hall will be inspired by the elegance and symbolism of this new design.
Change is good and important for any thriving institution. And change is hard, as memories and nostalgia associated with a specific place can be held very deeply. While the space currently occupied by the Hall of Memories will eventually be repurposed, out of great reverence for those whose memories are honored there, and ongoing gratitude for the tzedakah contribution of each individual plaque, we will be finding a new, honorable and appropriate location at Temple Beth Am for all of the existing plaques. Anyone who has honored the memory of a loved one will continue to have the opportunity to come to our building and visit those plaques, even as we continue to build out the new space, filling it with the names of those loved and lost by our TBA family.