In 1997 Young Israel of Avenue J asked Edward Jacobs remodel the existing interior of their synagogue as well as do any necessary architectural and interior building configuration changes necessary to maximize and energize the space.
“And G-d went before them as a pillar of cloud by day todirect them, and as a pillar of fire by night, to enlighten themnight and day.”Exodus 13:21
The dramatic elements of Pillar of Fire and Pillar of Cloud were used by God as the directional compass for The Children of Israel throughout their 40 year sojourn in the desert. The word “lehanchot/to show or direct” used in the story comes to illustrate both the physical and spiritual needs of the people. On the one hand there is the need to give geographic direction. More importantly though is the spiritual enlightenment that these elements represent.
We felt this to be a wonderful expression worthy of physical realization in the sanctuary of The Young Israel of Avenue J Synagogue.
1721 Avenue J- Brooklyn, NY 11230
The congregation had been praying in the sanctuary space for several years facing north, along the longer axis of the sanctuary room. As the sanctuary space was rectangular at a about a 4:1 ratio, this made logical sense, but unfortunately did not work well in practice. The first significant design suggestion was to reorient the direction of focus eastward on the long axis. This allowed for a great focus and participatory feeling for the majority of congregants and more convenient entrance and egress for both men and woman.
The central Bimah is positioned to provide maximum sight lines for the women’s section which is located behind the men’s section. The women’s section was given two levels to increase the sight and sound lines, allowing maximum exposure with the Halachic parameters desired by the congregation.
The Aron Kodesh/Ark located at the front of the room is situated on a 12 inch high platform and is clearly the central focus of the sanctuary. Decorating the 10 ft. high cherry wood doors is a ‘Pillar of Fire’ motif in bronze. The doors slide open to reveal the maple interior with its ‘Pillar of Cloud’ motif, bathed in light, supporting the Torah scrolls on individual shelves.
The Mechitza is composed of 6 ft. high cherry wood panels with laser cut apertures striking a balance between the desired Halachic mandates of the Rabbi and practical considerations of woman who wished to feel part of the service. The design at once evokes a classical ‘Tree of Life’ theme, but also recalls the ‘Burning Bush” of Moses’ prophecy.
The Ner Tamid is a sculpted brass element containing a hand blown glass receptacle for light reflecting the theme of the interior.
The Shulchan and Shtender contain the Flame motif with inlaid bronze. Both tables lift up to reveal a storage area within. The bench is of similar motif, composed of cherry and maple wood, and has storage draws underneath, with a Torah stand on one side.
The window on the wall directly behind the women’s section contains the main stained- glass window, filling the entire sanctuary with beautiful colored light. Depicted is the “Pillar of Fire, Pillar of Cloud” composition. This window, in conjunction with the second window above the entrance door, which depicts the ‘Cloud of Glory’ above the Mishkan, create a dramatic and stunning frontispiece for the building which is back-illuminated every evening and has become a beautiful signature for both the building and the street.