I love history and I love the spectacular design and architecture of cathedrals, mosques and synagogues. When I read that Sherith Israel was offering a Sharing the Beauty class I checked my calendar and then immediately sent an email to sign up.
“Discover more of what makes our sanctuary — and Sherith Israel — so special. Two workshops offer an in-depth look at one of San Francisco’s great architectural and spiritual treasures. A third prepares volunteers to serve as docents and to lead tours.
Dec. 2: History, art, and architecture of Sherith Israel
Dec. 9: Religious symbols and worship environment at CSI
Dec. 16: Docent training with Ellen Rosen”
The class started off with introductions and a historical presentation by Ava Kahn, author of several Jews in the American west books. I picked up a copy of her California Jews book a few months ago when I was browsing the local history section of a used bookstore in Point Reyes and noticed the cover featured the fascinating west window from Sherith Israel. I’ll have to write some day about why I find such kinship with the image of Moses handing down the ten commandments with a backdrop of El Capitan in Yosemite.
Kahn’s presentation was very interesting, but since I’m not writing a book myself I won’t copy my notes from the class verbatim here. However, there were some portions that were particularly striking to me:
The congregation was established in 1851, but the building they are in now was completed in 1905 and was one of the only major structures in San Francisco to survive the 1906 earthquake pretty much intact. As such, doubled as the San Francisco courts while the city was rebuilding. As such, “the famous corruption trial of San Francisco political boss Abe Ruef took place at Sherith Israel.” In 1945 the building was also the setting for a meeting of national Jewish organizations to commemorate the founding of the United Nations.
The building was built under the leadership of Rabbi Jacob Nieto, who was a pretty awesome guy. It’s said that he’s responsible for that west window and other beautiful religious iconography in the building as he worked with artist Emile Pissis, brother of Sherith Israel’s architect Albert Pissis. He also known for treating women as equals in the congregation and in 1908, under his leadership, women became voting members of the congregation.
Tomorrow I’ll be going over to class a bit early to join others in a tour of the inside of the dome at 6:30. The class then picks up with an exploration of “Religious symbols and worship environment” during which I hope to take many more pictures!
More photos from that first class here: http://www.flickr.com/photos/pleia2/sets/72157638304617065/