Some windows let in light. Some look out onto a pleasant view. And others, with the help of talented artists, beautifully tell a story.
The tall, narrow windows of Congregation Shaarey Zedek, Manitoba's first and most historic synagogue, tell the story of the Jewish faith through brilliant and colourful, cherished symbols.
Set back from the busy corner of Wellington Crescent and Academy Road along the banks of the Assiniboine River, this is the third structure in the congregation's history, built in 1949. Its members, numbering close to 1,000, will be celebrating its 125th anniversary beginning this fall.
This summer, Shaarey Zedek received a Best Overall Experience award for tours offered during their first ever participation in Doors Open Winnipeg, according to the synagogue's communications director, Robert Didych.
Tours are led by Shammes or ritual director Bill Weissmann, who both enlightens and entertains visitors as he cheerfully guides them through the synagogue.
During this visit, Rabbi Alan Green is also present. Senior rabbi at Shaarey Zedek since the fall of 2000, he has made Winnipeg his home for 21 years. Before that he spent almost 40 years in Los Angeles.
The large sanctuary can accommodate up to 1,500 people and contains the Holy Ark, or chamber, which holds the Torah scrolls, explains Green. Made of a mottled brown marble, the ark is situated on a raised platform or bimah. Considered sacred, the bimah is "symbolic of Mount Sinai where the Torah was given to the Jewish people... the first five books of the Bible. Whenever we do a service we are in some sense standing on Mount Sinai," says Green.
There is "simplicity and an austerity" to the sanctuary, he adds, while the smaller chapel adjacent to it is different, more colourful, and more intimate.
Six tall stained glass windows, constructed by Western Art Glass in the early 1970s, fill the room with vivid, beautiful hues of blue, purple and gold and stories of a faith told through symbols.
It is thought that Leo Mol had designed the windows after their communications director did some research, says Weissmann. The internationally renowned artist has designed many windows in places of worship throughout the city.
The first window nearest the entrance tells the story of Noah's ark. Green points out the dove of peace and the rainbow. "Noah knew the flood waters were finally receded when the dove came back with an olive branch," explains Green. "The rainbow gives hope for the future."
The rabbi thoughtfully and patiently explains and reflects on each of the remaining five windows highlighting the significance of each story and often relating it to the world today as we know it.
Jacob and his dream of the ladder are shown along with the story of the Ten Commandments, the Menorah, and other priestly symbols and the story of King David. The final window contains the first temple and the scales of justice and the scrolls.
The synagogue welcomes tours. To make arrangements, phone 204-452-3711.
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