From The Pittsburgh Post, 1 September 1907.
Beautiful Synagogue to Open Next Friday. Costly New Home of
Congregation of Rodeph Shalom Receiving Last Touches. Wonder in
Architecture. Great Dome Causes Thousands to Marvel--Memorials and Fine
Beautiful in massiveness and detail yet suggesting the acme of simplicity and impressiveness stands the beautiful new synagogue of Rodeph Shalom congregation at Fifth and Morewood avenues ready for consecration as one of the handsomest temples for Jewish worship in the country.
In design, construction and workmanship, in decorations and in every respect the fine edifice is one of the proudest creations in modern architecture and building methods, being a composite of excellence in hundreds of details.
Contractors are busying themselves putting the finishing touches to the interior for the informal opening which will be held Friday evening. In the meantime the trustees of the congregation are arranging for the event and the subsequent formal dedication, the date for which has not yet been set.
The architecture and design is as nearly Oriental as is in keeping with the desire of the congregation for a simple and dignified place of worship. The synagogue is built mainly of brick and terra cotta while costly material is used for finishing the front of the building.
Dome a Wonder.
The great dome, one of the largest and most singularly constructed of its kind in the country is the first thing that catches the eye from a distance. As one approaches it becomes greatly magnified until the whole affair presents itself as one of the wonders of latter day architecture.
The entire dome is of masonry and contains not a particle of steel. It is said to be the fourth largest of this kind in the world.
One loses sight of the huge dome with closer approach and the massiveness of the edifice proper distracts attention from the dome, the principal feature of the building. Here one reflects on the beautiful house of worship until the eye is cast along the front or entrance to the building.
The difficult workmanship on the front of the building, the marked detail of the thousands of little pieces of inlaid tiles and other materials suggest months of tedious and patient labor, great expense and above all as daring a bit of decorative work as can be imagined.
One does not have to be a connoisseur or to understand the techniques of the adept masters in architecture and design, who conceived the whole magnificent affair, to appreciate it. The most subtle-minded on this subject are forced to stop and admire it for a moment at least.
The dome and other features might suggest the synagogue to be any sort of a public building. There is something about it, however, that instantly suggests its real purpose, namely, a place wherein the members of Rodeph Shalom congregation shall be able to meet and worship as befits their tastes and desires since the old temple in Eighth street was sold.
Any failure at comprehension to this end, if such a thing were possible, would be instantly dispelled by the first square look at the front of the building. Above all its grandeur and beauty, dispelling all thought of the massiveness of the dome and the building itself, a simple inscription carved beautifully above the entrance attracts attention.
"My house shall be a house of prayer for all people."These beautiful words from the seventh verse, fifty-sixth chapter of Isaiah, sort of festoon or form an almost half circle directly over the entrance. Each letter forming the words of the passage is inlaid and can never be effaced. Coincident with its meaning and the thought it conveys the inscription is there to remain as long as the synagogue of the congregation Rodeph Shalom shall stand.
Massive Doors at Entrance.
The six doors entering into the auditorium are arranged in a manner not unlike that of modern theaters. The auditorium is furnished with oak seats upholstered in green leather. The carpets are green, while the shrine is beautifully decorated in green and gold. The wainscoting is 20 feet high and there the hand of a master again manifests itself, the whole being delicately and beautifully carved.
Four memorial windows from the Willet studios adorn the walls of the building. They commemorate the worthy careers of Jacob M. Gusky, Asher Guckenheimer, Jacob and Lena Klee and Fannie Hanauer Hamburger. The donors are respectively: Mrs. Esther M. Gusky, Mrs. Ida Guckenheimer, Philip Hamburger and the Klee family, the Pittsburgh branch of which is Mr. and Mrs. I. W. Frank.
The Gusky memorial is entitled "Mercy and Judgment," representing a benign figure of a bearded man bearing on one arm a child, while a woman seated on the ground in the garb of poverty expresses her despair. Nearby stands a boy with his hands uplifted in supplication.
"Moses Interceding for His People," is represented on the Guckenheimer memorial. It is a beautiful medallion of Moses kneeling in prayer on a lonely hill, overlooking beautiful meadows and divided by a steep precipice. His hands are clasped in agony. "And Moses returned unto the Lord and said: 'Oh, this people have sinned a great sin. Yet now, if thou wilt, only forgive their sin, and if not, blot me out of Thy book which Thou hast written.'" The theme for the beautiful creation is taken from the accompanying Scripture passage.
The Hamburger window, "Charity," represents in its central scene a charitable visitor at the bedside of a sick girl. The figures are nobly contrasted and the composition though simple tells a beautiful story. Below there are decorative panels the principal one containing a scroll of the law with a text commemorative of the spirit of the charitable woman so beautifully described in the last chapter of the Book of Proverbs. In the upper third of the window are two angels bearing through clouds the soul of the departed saint.
The Klee memorial, "Ruth and Naomi," represents the figures of two women standing in a loving embrace under a tree in an oasis. Ruth clings to her mother-in-law as she gives utterance to this beautiful classic: "Entreat me not to leave thee or to return from following thee, for whither thou goest I will go and where thou lodgest I will lodge; thy people shall be my people and thy God my God."
All Original Design.
Two each of these windows are arranged on either side of the synagogue. The Gusky and Klee memorials are on the west side of the structure while on the Morewood side are the Guckenheimer and Hamburger windows. Between the two on either side are larger affairs of conventional patterns bearing medallions of the coat-of-arms of the twelve tribes of Israel.
These windows are all from the original designs by William Willet and are the work of the Willet Stained Glass Co. They are made of the costliest imported antique glasses, each tint being selected from the glass itself.
On Friday evening at 8:30 o'clock the exercises in connection with the informal opening of the synagogue will begin. Owing to the approach of the Jewish New Year, which will be observed Sunday, September 8, the congregation found it necessary to hold the informal opening in order that the synagogue may be used in observing that event. The formal dedication will not take place until after the New Year, when the organ will have been installed and other work about the shrine finished.
It will also be necessary to complete the details of the transfer from the old temple to the new one. The seats in the new building will be relatively different so far as the owners are concerned and this is an important matter which must be finished before the formal dedication. Rabbi Levy will be sole celebrant at Friday night's exercises.
The complete cost of the new synagogue is in round numbers $330,000. Palmer and Hornbostel were the architects, while the contractor is Thomas Riley, of this city. The old temple in Eighth street was sold to the congregation of the Second Presbyterian Church in February, 1905.
The board of trustees of the congregation Rodeph Shalom is composed of the following: A. Lippman, president; Judge Josiah Cohen, vice president; Meyer Joseph, treasurer; L. J. Affelder, secretary; Samuel Wertheimer, Philip Hamburger, Nathaniel Spear, A . J. Sunstein, Isaac W. Frank and Kaskel Solomon.
The building committee is composed of Marcus Aaron, chairman; L. J. Affelder, Isaac W. Frank, Kaskel Solomon, Nathaniel Spear and A. J. Sunstein.
The advisory members of the building committee are Rabbi J. Leonard Levy, Morris Baer and Jacques Weil.
Congregation Rodeph Shalom first worshiped in a hall over the Vigilant engine house in Third avenue near Market street, then in the Irish hall in Sixth street and in 1861 built on Hancock Street, now Eighth street, the first synagogue in Western Pennsylvania. In 1879 it purchased the West View cemetery. In 1889 the synagogue was enlarged, but it was subsequently torn down and the old house of worship, now the Second Presbyterian Church, was built. The latter edifice was dedicated September 6 and 7, 1901.
Among the early readers and teachers of Rodeph Shalom were Sulzbacher and Marcuson. In 1864 William Armhold took charge of the congregation, remaining until 1865, when he went to Philadelphia. During his administration the congregation erected the temple in Eighth street and in conjunction with Josiah Cohen, now judge of common pleas court No. 4, he conducted a school, which was maintained from 1860 to 1868. From 1866 to 1870 L. Naumberg was reader and teacher, and in his day the reform movement was considerably advanced.
The First Rabbi.
The first rabbi of the congregation was Lippman Mayer, who came to Pittsburgh from Selma, Ala., in the spring of 1870. He successfully guided the congregation along advanced reform lines until his retirement as rabbi emeritus in 1901. By that time he had seen his congregation grow from a membership of 65 to 150. He was succeeded April 1, 1901, by rabbi J. Leonard Levy, the incumbent, who will be sole celebrant at the informal opening of the handsome new temple on Friday evening, and who will also officiate at the formal dedication which will be held at a later date.
Rev. Dr. Levy came here from the reform congregation Keneseth Israel, Philadelphia. In the past six years Rodeph Shalom has grown considerably. Its present number of members and seat holders is nearly 500. It is worthy of record that on the day after the dedication of the old temple in Eighth street in 1901, the congregation contributed a sum of money which not only liquidated a debt of over $100,000, but left a surplus of over $30,000.
Pittsburgh is notable in American Jewish history on account of the conference held here in 1885, and is also one of the best known cities in the country as a generous supporter of all Jewish movements. There are nearly a score of important auxiliary societies and organizations branching directly from Rodeph Shalom and the several other synagogues here.
Farewell to Old Home.
Members of the Rodeph Shalom congregation yesterday bade farewell to the old temple of worship in Eighth street, now the Second Presbyterian Church. It was the parting of the ways for the congregation and seldom if ever has a more affecting service been witnessed in this city.
Fully 400 persons were present when the services began. Dr. Levy presided and delivered the sermon, which followed a sketch of the congregation. He touched on the relationship existing between the congregation of Rodeph Shalom and that of the Second Presbyterian Church, likening his friendship for Rev. S. Edward Young to that which existed between Damon and Pythias. Dr. Levy formally thanked the Second Church for their kindness in allowing Rodeph Shalom the use of the old temple since it passed into the hands of the present owners. Rev. Young's voice was husky when he began his address of response to the eulogy and kind words of Dr. Levy. Several times he brushed away a tear. Tears filled the eyes of the worshipers as they filed out of the old temple for the last time.
Transcribed by sla.