Beth Israel Synagogue

Omaha, NE

Services provided on this project:

Architecture Overview:

While it meets a variety of special requirements on a difficult site, Beth Israel Synagogue -- the new home of Omaha’s Orthodox Jewish congregation -- is above all an inspiring setting for prayer, study, and a variety of activities. The sanctuary is the physical and spiritual heart of the building, with excellent visibility, access, and acoustics. It is also flexible, using movable partitions to expand into the adjacent chapel and social hall. Unique stained-glass windows and art pieces interpret God’s biblical covenants with the Israelites. The Ark, holding the Torah scrolls, is the center of the composition; it is faced with limestone similar in color and texture to the native stone that unifies the buildings of Jerusalem. On the outside, arched forms and masonry reflect the architecture of Israel, while straightforward lines are consistent with the surrounding environment. Situated on the highest part of the site, the building has a walk-out lower level for future expansion.

Liturgical Furnishings Design Overview:

RDG designed the Ner Tamid or Eternal Light; the reading table; mechitzah or separating walls between men and women in this Orthodox congregation; lecterns; and other furnishings to complete a uniquely spiritual space. The art of the Beth Israel sanctuary was conceived by RDG to reinforce the spiritual and textual quality of the space. The eastern wall of the sanctuary is a composition in stained glass, painting, fabric, and stone, centered around the passage from the Book of Deuteronomy that speaks of the accessibility of Torah to everyone: It is not in heaven, [for you] to say, "Who can ascend to the heaven for us and take it for us so that we can listen to it and perform it?” Nor is it across the sea, [for you] to say, “Who can cross to the other side of the sea for us and take it for us, so that we can listen to it and perform it?" Rather, the matter is very near to you -- in your mouth and your heart -- to perform it.

The focal point of the sanctuary is the Menorah Windows, designed by RDG, framing the Ark and shaped in the form of the six-branched candelabrum. To the right, the window has forms that reflect the heavens, while the left-hand window depicts the seas. The message is completed in a frieze, designed and executed in paint and gold leaf by Jonathon Nix, a noted liturgical artist from Waltham, Massachusetts. The background of the frieze symbolically and abstractly represents the relationship between God and the people of Israel through the Covenant. The perochet, or curtain over the Ark, completes the symbolic composition, with an expression that intertwines the Torah and the letter Aleph, the first letter of the Ten Commandments, of the Hebrew alphabet, and of Adonai.

The other building walls complement these themes in the same materials. The sanctuary has twelve stained-glass windows, also designed by RDG, representing the twelve tribes of Israel. The windows, in dominant blues, purples, and aquas, contain the name of each tribe in flowing, organic letters. The windows are located above the continued frieze, which includes two central texts of the revelation at Sinai -- "If you will keep my Covenant, you shall be precious to me" and "You shall be a kingdom of priests and a holy nation." The composition expresses the unity of Israel as the people stood together at Sinai and accepted the Torah.

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Master Planning Overview:

  • CLIENT: Beth Israel Congregation
  • COMPLETE: February 2004
  • View Related Project Types:
    Worship

"I felt the building reaching out its arms to me!"

- Exclaimed by a long-time member after the opening service

"I felt the building reaching out its arms to me!"

- Exclaimed by a long-time member after the opening service