There was new illumination in the sanctuary of Temple Beth O’r/Beth Torah, the Conservative congregation in Clark, this High Holy Day season. It was the light streaming through the synagogue’s new window, designed by Ascalon Studios, the award-winning stained-glass artists in West Berlin, NJ.
A formal ribbon-cutting ceremony will take place later in the fall, recognizing the completion of the wall, which was fitted into the sanctuary’s eastern wall over the summer. But for a number of people the High Holy Day services provided a first glimpse of the new feature.
The new design has a lower half of Jerusalem stone and an upper half of stained glass mounted inside clear insulating glass.
Jonathan Phillips, the temple’s executive vice president, was delighted by the response. He said, “Many, many congregants and visitors were overwhelmed with the beauty of the windows.” During his announcements, he invited people to come up to the bima to get a closer view. He said he heard one person say, “This is even better close up,” and another exclaim, “Wow, this stone reminds me of my trip to Jerusalem!”
The 55-year-old congregation, which in 1992 joined forces with Temple Beth Torah of Rahway, started construction on its Clark home in the late 1950s, and completed it in the early 1960s.
“The stained-glass windows depict the joining together of light and Torah, which represent the congregations of Beth O’r and Beth Torah, and our forming one community to live vibrant and passionate Jewish lives throughout the yearly cycle of holy days,” said the congregation’s leader, Cantor Steven Stern. “And the inscription engraved in the Jerusalem stone below the windows reflects the biblical assertion that when we build a sanctuary for inspirational prayer, God’s presence dwells in our midst.”
The actual work was completed in less than two months, but the building committee put in six months of work in preparation. Phillips declined to say how much the wall cost. The family who provided the financing asked to remain anonymous and that the cost be kept private.
“The investment was substantial,” he said. “The cost of the wall is equivalent to many times the cost of a single family home when the synagogue was constructed.”
Congregation board president Howard Silverman said the donor family wanted to dedicate something of great meaning to the temple in honor of their parents.
“We pray daily in our sanctuary and naturally wanted to consider improving the spiritual environment of that special room,” he said.
Martin Richstein, chair of the synagogue’s house committee, led the search for an artist.
Ascalon Studios was founded by Hungarian-born Jewish sculptor and industrial designer Maurice Ascalon, together with his son David, an architecture and design graduate of New York’s Pratt Institute. A third generation of Ascalons is also involved now. The firm’s stained-glass and metal work creations adorn hundreds of institutions, houses of worship, and public spaces across North America. Some of their work can also be seen in Israel, where the Ascalons did work with the firm of architect Arieh Elhanani in Tel Aviv.