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    Stained-glass windows return to Honesdale synagogue for congregation's 175th anniversary

    By Peter Becker, Tri-County Independent,

    2024-05-21
    https://img.particlenews.com/image.php?url=0N5sun_0tDa5A4F00

    As part of its 175th anniversary celebration in 2024, Congregation Beth Israel in Honesdale has installed stained-glass windows in the synagogue reflecting congregants' faith as well as restoring what they had lost over 80 years ago in a colossal flood.

    The pair of windows stand tall, one on either side of the ark and stage holding the podium where the rabbi stands. These windows are filled with rich colors brilliant even on a cloudy day, each hue and window element saturated in symbolism of their Jewish traditions and belief.

    Temple Beth Israel has stood on the edge of the Lackawaxen riverbank at 615 Court St. since 1856, seven years after the congregation was founded. The Reform congregation is notable for being the oldest Jewish congregation in North America continuously meeting in the same building. Joyful, dedicated service has been accompanied by tribulation. The flood of May 23, 1942, was one such ordeal, where the raging river broke every window and did major interior damage.

    The congregation restored the synagogue, except for the two costly stained-glass windows on either side of the stage. They were replaced with multiple-pane, transparent glass windows matching those on the right and left sides and street side.

    Symbolism

    The new windows were crafted by artisans Mark Liebowitz and his wife Nancy Katz of Wilmark Studios in Pawtucket, Rhode Island. They were installed May 9, assisted by Robert Schwartz of the congregation's board.

    The materials are all made in America, Liebowitz said. Katz is the designer, and Liebowitz is the master craftsman. They visited the synagogue last October and received a black and white photograph on which to base the design.

    Each element has meaning. There are 18 ovals in the middle section; the number relates to the Hebrew alphabet and the word for "life."

    Imagery on top depicts the holy city of Jerusalem, with the violet arch and amber pieces above.

    Blue horizontal stripes, Katz said, represent the land and the state of modern Israel, recalling the Israeli flag. "It was important to make this connection especially at this time," she said, referencing the current war between Israel and Hamas. A blue Star of David is prominent under the arch.

    Hebrew script on the window at right references Ecclesiastes 3: "To everything there is a time and a season." Script on the left window is derived from Numbers 8: "From generation to generation we will praise your name."

    The bottom section contains 12 colorful rectangles. They represent the breast plate the High Priests wore, which had a dozen stones. Each color signifies one of the 12 tribes of Israel.

    Images of trees were subtly sandblasted on the brown margin around the bottom section. There are four trees, for each season, influenced by the Dorflinger cut glass heritage of Wayne County. Liebowitz said that their visit last fall allowed them to develop a sense of the community where the congregation resides and wanted to show that connection.

    Schwartz said trees will be cut down behind the synagogue, allowing an unobstructed view from Riverside Drive with the stained glass lit up during evening services.

    Amber glow recalled

    Congregation President Liza Roos Lucy said the idea for returning stained glass to the synagogue came from reading Corinne Katz Hoexter's description of her remembrances from when she was a child.

    At 95, Hoexter is their oldest living member, Lucy said.

    She shared Hoexter's comment: "What I remember of my early days at Temple Beth Israel in Depression era Honesdale was the amber glow in the sanctuary. As a fifth generation member of Beth Israel, I realized that this was experienced by Father and many cousins but not by me. I am delighted that now I, my children and those that come after us, will be able to experience an 'amber glow.'"

    "My daughter asked what she and her sister could do to honor my leadership of Beth Israel and I said I would like the 'amber glow' to return," Lucy said. Her daughter Elizabeth found this firm online.

    At first, Elizabeth thought to undertake the project, but had a limited budget. The artists considered something on a smaller scale, replacing the small panes in the existing windows with stained glass. Henry Skier, however, advised if this was to be done, it should be done right.

    "Henry Skier, who was the president before me, and I joined together to contribute the windows to Beth Israel," Lucy said.

    "The founders of our congregation thoughtfully installed stained-glass windows through which light shone into the sanctuary until on two occasions floods destroyed the windows," Skier said. "Our generation of congregation leadership wants to have light shine again through stained-glass windows so that future generations will know and continue our storied history.”

    "The windows are an important connection to our history and projection to our future," Rabbi Elliott Kleinman said. "They honor great leaders of our congregation and are certain to inspire future leaders."

    Congregants had their first opportunity to see them at the weekly Shabbat service Friday evening, May 10. Kleinman watched as they filed in. "One by one their jaws dropped in awe as they took in the beauty these windows bring into our sanctuary," he reflected.

    Their design, he noted, echoes the original windows, and yet reflect their congregation today.

    Formal dedication

    A formal dedication will be observed at the Friday, May 24, service starting at 7:30 p.m.

    More events are being planned to honor the 175th anniversary of Congregation Beth Israel.

    An ongoing tribute was unveiled May 4 at the Wayne County Historical Society Museum, at 810 Main St., Honesdale. A new exhibit highlights the history of the congregation and its temple, with photographs, artifacts and documents. The museum is open Wednesday through Saturday, 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.

    Information about Wilmark Studios is available at nancykatzwilmark.com.

    For more information about Congregation Beth Israel, call 570-253-2222 or visit congregationbethisraelhonesdale.org.

    Peter Becker has worked at the Tri-County Independent or its predecessor publications since 1994. Reach him at pbecker@tricountyindependent.com or 570-253-3055 ext. 1588.

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