16 November 2009

Abode of God



In Paul Goldberger's book, Why Architecture Matters, he writes about the critic Karsten Harris, who describes the task of architecture as preserving "at least a piece of utopia, and inevitably such a piece leaves and should leave a sting, awaken utopian longings, fill us with dreams of another and better world."

I know this feeling close to heart, serving a community that is very attached to not one but two buildings, our Sanctuary and Temple House--attached spiritually, socially, physically, historically. The ties that bind are powerful. It was with considerable pleasure this morning that I read the following passage, thinking about our founding in 1861, during Abraham Lincoln's Presidency. Goldberger writes, "It is not for nothing that Abraham Lincoln insisted that the building of the great dome of the Capitol continue during the Civil War, even though manpower was scarce and money scarcer still; he knew that the rising dome was a symbol of the nation coming together and that no words could have the same effect on the psyche of the country that the physical reality of the building could. Lincoln knew, I suspect, that even the most eloquent words would not be present and in front of us all the time, the way the building would be. And Lincoln knew also that there was value in making new symbols as well as in preserving older ones and the building the dome was a way of affirming a belief in the future."

"...that there was value in making new symbols as well as in preserving older ones and the building the dome was a way of affirming a belief in the future."

We live inside this construct as a community and reading these words today on a speeding subway car, running from meeting to meeting around the city, telling our story as a community to those who might help us; and then returning to a meeting at Shul tonight to share these words with our leadership was a thrilling transitional moment to experience. It had the feeling of reading liturgy in those rare moments when everything actually does work, when the words match up with the heart and one is literally transported from a present to future place, and then back again, forever aware of having been changed by the shift in perspective.

Architects must surely feel this way about the spaces they create. Maybe it's even why they do what they do. God knows it's why I became a rabbi.

And living in Brooklyn for the last twenty years, serving CBE as its rabbi for the last three, I inhabit this question daily. And now here we are, as one community, facing it together.

Two old buildings in need of repair--not quite in domestic wartime but certainly in an age of diminishing "manpower" and even scarcer resources. But how could we not? How could we deny, arguably, the greatest resources we have--our love of community, our desire to learn and to serve others, and our irrepressible need to weave a story of personal and national redemption?

From the Capitol dome to our Sanctuary dome, each the shape of a Heaven that holds an unlimited supply of unlimited dreams, now and into the future. And we, a Congregation since 1861, who takes its name from Jacob's dream of dreams, out in the open, beneath a dome of sky, nothing less than the "Abode of God."

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