Temple Emanu-El  Altar Remodel

San Jose, CA


DATE: 1979

COST: $30,000

Temple Emanu-El, constructed in the early 1900's, had a large sanctuary in which religious services, bar-mitzvah, weddings, and other celebrations were held. The raised pulpit, accessible by six stairs, presented an obstacle for the elderly members of the congregation to use, and the area at the top of the pulpit was too small to accommodate the congregational participation in services customary in Jewish liturgy. This large pulpit structure also limited the seating for other participants in the service.

For the rehabilitation, the Bema area was brought forward towards the congregation and was widened beyond the proscenium arch. The raised pulpit was eliminated. The Bema was lowered to only 3 steps above the congregation. Seating for participants in the service was arranged around the curved back wall. Budgetary restrictions as well as a desire to incorporate the old with the new, dictated that the lecterns from the original Bema be reused in the new design. In addition, the Eternal Light, a hanging fixture, the Tablets of the Ten Commandments, and the doors to the Ark were all reused from the original Bema.

The curling, heavily textured stucco walls wrap through the proscenium opening and around into the congregation area in order to provide a wider appearance and envelop the audience. They symbolize the scrolls of the TORAH, the Jewish Law, housed in the Ark. Some drama was achieved through the use of brighter colors and rear lighting of the backdrop, emphasizing the Eternal Light and the Ark as the source of God's law. Warmer colors were selected for contrast with the green congregational seating. The organ loft above and behind the Tablets remains but the wall screening it from the congregation was curved to simulate the curves of the foreground walls.

The project was accomplished within the budget and has been awarded a Certificate of Commendation by the Santa Clara Valley Chapter of the American Institute of Architects in their "Great Places" Design Awards program 1982.