When Rabbi Steven Rosenberg talks about the architectural design of his Temple Isaiah synagogue, he feels “enormous hope” for what the building will bring to future generations.
In addition to being a synagogue and Jewish community center, Temple Isaiah is also a notable mid-century modern structure that is also home to the Desert Winds Freedom Band and the Modern Men Choir. It also hosts quinceañera celebrations, weddings, funerals and other events.
The temple was featured again in Modernism Week – October this year via a sold-out tour.
Mitchell Karp, chairman of the board of directors of Temple Isaiah, said Modernism Week tours provide the synagogue with an opportunity to counter misconceptions and stereotypes of the Jewish faith and establish a dialogue with people. tourists and the local community as anti-Semitism is on the rise.
“(Modernism Week) changed people’s perception of who we are, because this building is not just a temple,” Karp said. “Around the temple is a Jewish community center and there are few temples that have a Jewish community center co-existing in one building. When we built this temple, it was built under the auspices that it was for the community , not just the Jewish community.”
Rosenberg said the tour attracted Modernism Week attendees from Australia and Canada who had read previous stories about the synagogue and its architecture on the internet.
Here are some highlights from Temple Isaiah Modernism Week – October guided tour:
The original building was designed in 1947
Architect E. Stewart Williams designed the original structure, now known as Al Liberman Chapel, in 1947. It was opened in 1951 to the local Conservative, Reform, and Orthodox Jewish communities. Building materials were scarce coming out of World War II, and synagogues were built with concrete, wood, steel, and glass.
The original architecture of the Isaiah Temple featured a large square building consisting of concrete floors, cement walls, cinder blocks and aggregates, and wooden ceilings. The exterior featured a repeated Star of David motif, a breezeway, and an adjacent building. It was a departure from most synagogues in the United States which incorporated designs inspired by Eastern European temples, such as the Great Synagogue in Prague.
The chapel has six stained glass windows, a Bzim (altar) decorated with the Hebrew calligraphy of the 10 commandments, a large arch and a light fixture hanging from the ceiling with a red LED bulb symbolizing eternal light. A set of cantilevered stairs lead to a balcony, but the stairs and balcony are not usable for safety reasons.
Frank Sinatra raised funds for the new temple
Rabbi Joseph Hurwitz, who spent four decades at Temple Isaiah, was also a chaplain at Desert Regional Medical Center. While Frank Sinatra’s mother, Dolly, was hospitalized, Hurwitz befriended Frank Sinatra. After Dolly Sinatra died in a plane crash near Palm Springs in 1977, Hurwitz gave a eulogy. Sinatra then thanked Hurwitz and told him he was there for the Palm Springs rabbi if he needed anything.
When it came time to build an expansion, Sinatra held a series of fundraisers in 1982 and 1983 and brought many of his friends from Los Angeles and New York, ultimately raising $4 million. Although Sinatra was Catholic, he was a life member of the temple and his name is preserved in perpetuity on two pews inside the new chapel.
The new temple was built in 1987
A new Brutalist addition to Temple Isaiah was designed by David Christian, who is also known for designing Lulu’s California Bistro and several other restaurants in Palm Springs. In addition to the Bochner Shrine, the update included the Tash/Agam Arch, Warsaw Ballroom, Levy Room, Vener Reception Hall, and a new kitchen.
The addition also includes seating for 700 members, a slightly sloped roof, a panoramic window above the Bzim with 12 glass panels representing the 12 tribes of Israel, and 18 angled windows. One of the main differences between the new chapel and the old – one apart from the size – is the incorporation of natural sunlight and modern ambiance. Many said the west end of the building resembled an arch, Christian and Temple Isaiah said that was unintentional.
The Glass Arch is a “Radical Departure”
When Israeli sculptor and artist Yaacov Agam was commissioned to build an arch for the Temple of Isaiah, he designed a colorful glass cabinet-like structure, leaving the Torah scrolls visible inside. Rosenberg describes this as a “radical departure” as scrolls are traditionally placed in arches with cabinet doors or behind a curtain.
Agam, an early figure in the “kinetic art” movement, also has works on display at the Palm Springs Art Museum and Sunnylands Center and Gardens.
Brian Blueskye covers arts and entertainment for the Desert Sun. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @bblueskye.