The word synagogue derives from the Greek word "synagein" which means "to bring together." It is an apt name for a structure that serves religious as well as social functions. Like all synagogues, Beth Ahabah's is a house of prayer, a facility for community gatherings, and a center for education.
The cornerstone for the Franklin Street Synagogue was laid on March 4, 1904. Construction quickly proceeded and the structure was dedicated just nine months later on December 9, 1904.
The synagogue was designed by the Richmond-based firm of Noland and Baskervill, noted for other area landmarks like nearby St. James' Church and the wings of the Virginia State Capitol. The design reflects the neo-classical architectural style popular at the turn of the century for civic buildings like courthouses, city halls, and religious structures, and is believed to have been patterned after Jefferson's home, Monticello, and the Rotunda at the University of Virginia. Elements such as a façade dominated by Doric columns and pediments, and the expansive domed interior (which features Ionic-influenced details) create a large, awe-inspiring space.
The Byzantine-style sanctuary is most noted for its proscenium arch. The arch still sports the elaborate paintings given to it in 1913 after the Ladies Auxiliary had raised sufficient funds to give the previously austere sanctuary "the inspired touch of the artist." The Ner Tamid or Eternal Light symbolizes God's presence and hangs in front of the Ten Commandments at the head of the sanctuary. Original to the 1904 building, its use of the then new electric light bulb was an innovation in its day. The prominent placement of the pulpit and ark at the same end of the sanctuary, coupled with the magnificent original pipe organ, is typical of the "Americanized Judaism" preferred by Reform congregations of the day. The impressive pipe organ, still in use today, consists of over 2000 pipes, ranging in size from 6 inches to 16 feet.
Our wonderful chapel is the result of a generous gift made by Nathan and Sophie Gumenick in 1980. The chapel was but one of the many ways in which the couple contributed to Congregation Beth Ahabah. (And their philanthropy extended elsewhere as well—most notably to Temple Israel in Miami and to Mt. Sinai Hospital.) The 20 x 50 foot chapel seats approximately 100 congregants and features a beautiful rear wall composed almost entirely of colored glass. The chapel's interesting metal Ner Tamid is the gift of Joseph S. Galeski, Jr. and was designed by Ludwig Wolpert (1900-1981), a well-known sculptor, silversmith and designer of Judaica. The chapel is an excellent addition to our Temple campus, providing both an ideal space for smaller services and overflow seating for the main sanctuary.
We are particularly proud of the 29 beautiful stained glass windows that adorn our synagogue's main sanctuary. Many commemorate important congregants and include such images as the Eternal Light, the Burning Bush, the Garden of Eden, and the House of the Lord. Most notable is a window on the building's east wall depicting Mount Sinai. Dedicated to Ellis and Barbette Mitteldorfer by their children, it was created and signed by the Louis C. Tiffany Studios in 1923.
Please click here for a more information on Beth Ahabah's stained glass and a photo gallery >>
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