I have a fascination with architecture, I love
looking at old buildings as well as what is new. I have seen the nondescript room in Jerusalem where the last supper took place
as well as the newer malls which are carefully built respecting even the grave
sites of Roman soldiers.
Even in New York City, there are a lot of new
structures that are being built, some that look like smoke stacks and others
that have careful and painstaking planning.
I was reading in a NY paper about the design of
a building in the center of the NYU Catholic community. On the bottom floor of
this new building on the corner was their new chapel. It is not surprising to
find a sanctuary on the lowest floor of a high rise building, making it
convenient for those who worship there. Actually, there is a beautiful old
synagogue on the upper Westside that, sadly, is going to be taken down with the
new sanctuary to be place on the bottom floor. Remember, however, as beautiful
as those old structures are, they lack practicality, because of poor
handicapped accessibility, deeming them obsolete
The design of the Catholic chapel was striking.
“Transparency,” is a key concept in many of these new buildings. Not only do
they have walls of glass, but some of the new residential construction in
Manhattan includes buildings where almost all the exterior walls are floor to
ceiling glass, exposing the interior. A number of those co-ops and condominiums
even prohibit curtains, restricting the residents’ privacy. The Catholic Chapel has large side walls
entirely made of glass, visible to those who are passing by while the evening
service was in progress.
searching the internet, I read that when Cardinal Timothy Dolan arrived for the
first Mass there, he admitted to wondering at first about the absence of
stained-glass windows. Then he noted that the clear windows of the new chapel
look directly out onto bustling Washington Square Park. He spoke of the great
number of people who passed by that ground-floor space and that it clearly
demonstrated an opportunity for evangelization.
In other words, the architecture was not just true to modern concerns of style
but also proclaimed an open and welcoming message of faith to others. That Chapel constantly reminded the
worshipers of the outside world. Its architecture says that this Catholic
community wants to draw outsiders in.
the Rabbis of ancient times said that a synagogue building must have windows.
That was not a statement about style. A modern interpretation of this rabbinic
requirement was given by the late Rabbi Kook. The windows in the synagogue, he
said, are to teach us that during our prayers we must be aware of the outside
world. A Jew must not withdraw from the world and pray only for our own needs.
windows of a synagogue, like the walls of glass in the Catholic Chapel also
express another message, a welcoming attitude. Let us remember that our
forefather Abraham’s tent was open on each of its four sides so that he could
welcome strangers. He planned his residence to be hospitable. It was his
attitude as well as the design for his home that mattered.
wonder what synagogue life would be like if we had put glass walls on the side
of our sanctuaries. Would we be emphasizing a welcoming attitude, with the
ability to draw in more members into our congregation?
know that many Jews are not affiliating with synagogues today, but I am always
inquiring for ways in which we can reach out to them.
paraphrase an old saying that people who live in glass houses shouldn’t throw
stones, let’s say that people who pray in glass sanctuaries are reading the
books of our tradition that contain our ideals. Our Jewish values and goals
have always been sharing goodness with the larger world and to bring it greater
justice as we also aim to draw others into our community by our welcoming attitude.
The Jewish message is as transparent as a wall made out of glass.
- Rabbi Alan