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Our Ark

The Doors on Our Ark

The stained glass in our ark doors depicts the orginal two tablets of the Torah, given at Mt. Sinai. The glass is nearly 100 years old. It was part of the central stained glass window of deconsecrated Temple Beth Israel, which used to face Geary Street in San Francisco, measuring 45 feet high and 23 feet wide. Through the generous efforts of William J. Lowenberg, a wealthy San Francisco financier and trustee of the Judah Magnes Museum, who paid to have the windows removed and stored at the Museum, our congregation as well as others were given the gift of choosing some of these glass panels for restoration and redesign for our own use. Keeping in mind the size of the original statement, we were fortunate to secure the top arch of the original window which were in two huge sections. The designer’s problem? How do you tear down and reconstruct what was essentially a round peg and fit it into a square hole?

It is interesting to note that these panels survived the SF 1906 earthquake while the Temple was in the building process, nearly finished in fact. Two years later, after some rebuilding from the earthquake, the synagogue was consecrated September 20, 1908. Much of the old glass cannot be made today. It is easily presumed that some, if not all of the glass was made by Tiffany Studios. Besides being an artist, Louis Tiffany developed his own glass to provide unique sheets of opaque glass using colors and hues to make opalescent glass so typical of this period.

A picture of the original window survives today. The window was crafted to include two arches of stained glass design. We obtained the inner arch called the intrado in which the tablets of the Ten Commandments predominate in Hebrew script. The tablets were suspended in a blue sky, resting on a bed of dark brown thunder clouds, flanked by two large cobalt blue vases trimmed in orange. Inside each of these vases stood a tree, lush with green leaves, and laden with fruits of the Holy Land. On one side was the green-yellow etrog or citron and to the other side were the flaming red pomegranates. These are all sacred symbols of the people of Israel. The outside perimeter of the arch called the extrado, was strewn with heavy thick green vine leaves and clusters of purple grapes, interconnecting in 19 circles. Five snow flake patterns decorated the base of the window.

We did not receive any of the other elements mentioned above, because much of the panels left in Mr. Lowenberg’s private garage were destroyed by vandals before their removal and many congregations before us had scavenged the better pieces before we took a look. But to maintain the integrity of the original design, we decided to have the tablets breaking into the rays of light (as if broken) and adapt an original design Mr. Tiffany utilized at Temple Emmanuel in New York city, where he leaded a marvelous likeness of the tablets broken, as if struck by lightening. So with all due respect to Mr. Tiffany, the concept worked spectacularly with what we could garner away from that garage and thus, we have our ark doors.
—Maria Stolz

Sun, January 20 2019 14 Sh'vat 5779