Beth-El Congregation brings artifacts from its past to the present.

A little over twenty years ago, Beth-El Congregation moved from a dark 80 year-old building into a synagogue with a bright, white limestone exterior and floor-to-ceiling windows. That change was dramatic. During the transition as much stone, stained glass, and metal as possiblewas salvaged to integrate those beloved, historic features into the new building.

Beth-El Congregation Before
The previous building
Beth-El Congregation
The New Building
Beth-El Congregation
Menorahs place in the new facade.

Stonemasons removed the religious symbols of the previous building at 207 West Broadway. Candelabras crafted from 16 carved pieces of Hill Country limestone were pried apart and pieced back together for Beth-El’s new building at 4900 Briarhaven Road. Architect David Stanford had decided that the twin menorahs would flank the entry doors of the synagogue.

Also embedded in the old building’s façade was a weathered frieze with a quote from Psalms. It was relocated to a wall in the new building’s Rosenthal Meditation Garden. The words on the frieze, read “Give ear, O Lord, unto my prayer.”

Beth-El Congregation

Beth-El was founded in 1902.  It’s Briarhaven Road building displays artifacts of the earlier building including a Steinway grand piano and a bronze memorial board, both of which were damaged in The Great South Side Fire of 1946.  Also brought to the Briarhaven building were decorative items of the building after it was renovated.  Included were stained-glass windows, circular medallions picturing Jewish symbols, a dozen menorah sconces, a ten-foot decorative grill with rays of steel emanating from a central Star of David that served as the door to the ark, and the cabinet that houses the sacred Torah scrolls.

Beth-El Hall of Rememberance
Beth-El Hall of Rememberance

The Hall of Remembrance also became home to a mixed-media assortment of nameplates and plaques. Saving these objects was the hardest preservation battle of all. They were tacky, not tasteful, nothing but a heap of names.

The temple archivist wondered whether to go to the mat to save the plaques.  Then, one morning, Michael Appleman, a young attorney and a third-generation congregant, asked what was to become of the plaques on the walls. He said he felt “so proud” each time he passed a plaque bearing the name of his grandfather, Frank Appleman, who was temple president in 1962.  An oversized plaque at the entrance to the religious school was inscribed not only with his grandfather’s name but also with the biblical dictum,  “Thou shalt teach them diligently to thy children.”  Michael’s sincere, sentimental words were repeated like a mantra, passed from person to person. Within a few weeks, the question of whether to save the plaques was a definite yes. The issue was how to display them tastefully. Given an ultimatum, the designers came up with a pleasing arrangement on the back wall of the Hall of Remembrance.

When Beth-El Congregation opened its doors at 4900 Briarhaven Road for the Jewish High Holidays in September of  2000, congregants were grateful for the mementos of the past that followed them to their bright new contemporary home, a landmark of past and present.

Content written by Hollace Ava Weiner when submitted to HFW for consideration for a Preservation Award.