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Our Western Wall

by Keith Satisky, former President

If you have not yet had the opportunity to visit Israel, I highly recommend it — especially if you can go with our rabbis this coming June. My family did just that a few months before my oldest son’s bar mitzvah in 2011. One of the highlights of our trip was praying at the Western Wall with Jews of all movements and persuasions. Most everyone knows the history of the Western Wall, but fewer in our congregation know the connection of this wall to our synagogue.

The architect for our synagogue was Michael Landau, a Jewish architect and, at the time, a professor at NC State. A friend and client of both me and my father, the primary “idea man” was David Falk (z”l), who also helped build every synagogue and temple in Raleigh. The wall in our sanctuary, which represents the Western Wall in Jerusalem, was designed by the late Ezra Meir (z”l) — an active member of our congregation and a prominent world-class engineer.

Meir was determined that our wall would stand for as long as the Western Wall in Jerusalem. At the time of construction in the early 1980s they explored using limestone, but the cost was too prohibitive. Instead, a brick pattern with borders was creatively used to mimic the look of the large stone building blocks. Just as the Western Wall stands alone, a close inspection of our sanctuary wall reveals that is it also stands alone and is only connected to the rest of our Synagogue by open glass (and very deep pilings for support). The arches in the center of our wall represent the arched gates to the old city in Jerusalem. The glass ark itself, which houses our Torah scrolls, is representative of the glassed gate in Jerusalem said to welcome the Messiah.

The architect repeats the theme of large blocks in the wood paneling along the sides of the sanctuary. To complete the enclosure symbolically, Landau recreates the Western Wall pattern in brick over the tallis rack which, when one stands on the bimah and looks up the aisle toward the lobby, gives the appearance that our temple has been completed.

And to give the illusion that we are praying under the stars rather than a roof, Landau created the blue ceiling with star-like lights that seem to extend up to the ark. To add to the Jewish symbolism, the roof is designed in the shape of a menorah, and I invite all our members to stand on the bimah and look up where the menorah theme will become very apparent.

A few more tidbits about the building for those that are interested: it was designed so the back of the sanctuary would be close to the bimah and give the same feeling of closeness and warmth that our old synagogue on Johnson Street had given; yet on holidays, we could seat a thousand people. Also, the stained-glass windows in the Chapel were done by the late Raleigh resident and artist, Alice R. Ehrlich (z”l), for our old Synagogue building and were taken down piece by piece and reinserted in our current building.

After visiting Jerusalem, I certainly gained a greater appreciation for the architecture and holy symbolism of our synagogue and, hopefully, you will as well.

By the way, this article was blatantly plagiarized almost word-for-word from a HaMaggid article written by my father, Howard, at the beginning of his second term as President of Beth Meyer in 2011 (and, incidentally, during his first term 30 years earlier, he oversaw the fund raising, land acquisition and construction of our current Synagogue).

Thu, July 18 2024 12 Tammuz 5784