Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Sam Gruber Lecture: American Synagogues & Jewish Identity at Temple Adath, Syracuse (NY)

 Syracuse, NY.  Temple Adath Yeshurun, sanctuary.  Percival Goodman, architect (1971), Dorothy Reister, sculptor.  Photo: Samuel D. Gruber (2013).

For readers in the Central New York area, this Sunday morning, December 8th,  I'll be giving an illustrated talk at Temple Adath Yeshurun in Syracuse at 10:00 a,m,  Admission is free.  Come a little early for coffee and chitchat.  

The venue is special.  Temple Adath is one of the last synagogues designed by modern master Percival Goodman, and it is also one of the very best - and certainly most striking - of modern buildings in Central New York.  You don't have to be Jewish to be interested in synagogue architecture, and you don't need to be Jewish to want to visit this building. 

Arise and Build: American Synagogues & Jewish Identity

In the last hundred years, American Jews have built synagogues at a rate never seen in the world before, and in the process they have integrated the synagogue into the American landscape, and Judaism into the American cultural mainstream. This illustrated lecture explores the evolving form and meaning of American synagogue in the 20th century, shaped by architects and their congregational patrons. Through synagogue design, we trace changes in the organization of the American Jewish community and its relationship to American culture as a whole. The location, size, shape, and stylistic language adopted for synagogue designs throughout the century is a reflection of the changing needs and values of American Jews.

Temple Adath has interest inside and out, and the entire plan - combining myriad practical and utilitarian functions with large worship, social and educational spaces - is worth study.  Goodman is often noted - and I have recently done so myself (see recent post about Herbert Ferber and Ibram Lassaw) - for his signature design elements such as sharp angles, natural materials (especial brick and wood) and the abundant incorporation of modern art in his designs - but he also excelled as a site and facilities planner.  He had a good sense of building siting, the relationship of parts for function and aesthetic and emotional effect, and how to develop interesting spatial progressions.

Syracuse, NY.  Congregation Adas Yeshurun (Neustadter Shul), Mulberry St (now State St). founded 1870, built 1878 (demolished). Photo: Rudolph, From a Minyan to a Community)

The evolution of Temple Adath Yeshurun as a congregation, and as a series of buildings, is a good illustration of the development of American synagogues common throughout the country (I develop this theme further in an essay titled The Continuing Exodus written for an exhibition about urban synagogues a few yeas back).  Temple Adath was an offshoot in 1870 from an existing congregation (New Beth Israel, commonly known as The Grape Street Shul).  Congregation Adas Yeshurun received a New York State charter in 1872, and the members then bought a house o Mulberry Street to use as a place of worship.  They erected a new building on the site in 1878.  This building remained in use until the congregation moved in 1922 to an imposing classical structure (designed by Gordon Wright) slightly further east  on South Crouse Avenue and Harrison Street (now the Hotel Skyler).  At that time the name was changed to Temple Adath Yeshurun.

Syracuse, NY.  Former Temple Adath Yeshurun, sanctuary.  Gordon Wright, architect (1922)

Fifty years later, in 1971, the congregation dedicated its present home on Kimber Road at the eastern edge of the City of Syracuse.  Design by Percival Goodman, it includes impressive ritual and decorative artwork by Dorothy Reister.  Some of the stained glass window panels from the 1922 building were moved and installed at Kimber Road.

Syracuse, NY.  Temple Adath Yeshurun, chapel.  Percival Goodman, architect (1971).  Photo: Samuel D. Gruber (2013).

For more information, call the Temple Adath office at (315) 445 – 0002, email, or visit