Collaboration on the Way to a Synagogue

The completion of our additions to The Temple-Tifereth Israel has just been heralded by the results of a unique four-way collaboration in the reconstruction of an old Ark as the central focus of the Temple’s new Chapel.

The Ark has made its way to the newly expanded and renovated Beachwood, Ohio, building from its original home at the University Heights synagogue in Cleveland. Built almost a century ago to house the congregation’s cherished Torah Scrolls, the Ark desperately need refurbishing, but remained an emotional touchstone for its congregation.

The collaboration began with a concept from The Temple’s Senior Rabbi Richard Block, which I integrated with the Chapel design. Engaging two groups of artistic craftsmen, we comingled our ideas in a series of conversations to bring the historic piece back to life in a new manifestation.

The wooden Ark was carefully restored and refinished by Cleveland’s Norbert Koehn, who also made a new Chapel reading table. The Ark doors, which were previously all solid wood, have new, illuminated stained glass designed by ‘Plachte-Zuieback Art Glass,’ the northern California firm of David and Michelle Pachte-Zuilback. Their blue and white glass glows from LED panels behind, transforming the Ark into a luminous presence. The glass is made to look like folded drapes, the traditional cover for the Torah Scrolls inside an ark.

In the new domed space, the ark sits beneath a huge bimah archway. While small in its setting, the Ark’s glow, and that of historic stained glass windows that also moved to Beachwood from the old downtown chapel, shines in the daylight and warms the space at night. It evokes the Rabbi’s vision of a living faith that regenerates through the ages.