In the days of the ancient temple in Jerusalem, Jews would travel to the temple for the three pilgrimage holidays, Passover, Shavuot, and Sukkot. While today, we often think of pilgrimage as being more present in other religious traditions, the act of walking towards a holy place is a part of Jewish tradition. Whether knowing that makes it easier to trek across Philadelphia in 85° weather in masks to view Society Hill Synagogue’s ark is another thing!
We had a quick snack at Leo’s house, where we gathered our papers filled with questions about the colors, symbols and inscriptions we were about to see. Then, we started our walk on Spruce Street. We were on the hunt for details to take inspiration from to build our Makom Community ark.
We passed by Temple Beth Zion Beth Israel, noting the lamps decorated with the Magen David, the menorah above the announcement board, and a hamsa on their events page.
At Trinity Memorial Church and Tenth Presbyterian, we noticed the incorporation of the cross into the buildings’ architectures and the three overlapping circles which symbolized the Trinity over the archway of the church. All three buildings looked very grand and were designed in dark colors. We thought about what color scheme we want the ark to be.
“Rainbow!” Zoey shouted and everyone agreed.
By the time we got to Society Hill Synagogue, we were very happy to drink some water, offered to us by Sahar Oz, the executive director. Sahar took us up to see the ark. Thanks for having us, Sahar!
The cohort had lots of questions.
“Why do so many arks have lions on them?”
“They’re the symbol of the city of Jerusalem,” Sahar told us.
“What does the inscription say?” Leo asked.
“The translation is ‘This is the gate to God through which the righteous shall come.”
Sahar told us about each of the Torah covers, which had different themes featuring a shofar, a dove, a menorah, and more. He also told us about the long history of the congregation, originally started as a community for Romanian refugees, and noted that the congregation has always been egalitarian with equal rights for men and women. This definitely jived with our Makom Community values.
After showing us the original charter from the congregation, Sahar said goodbye. We walked back to Leo’s past the Vilna Congregation, whose synagogue used to be a simple townhouse.
“Wow!” Zoey said. We were struck by how beautiful it looked, even though it was simple. I’m excited to see how our cohort can take a simple cabinet and make it our own. We’ll be researching to make sure our ark is accessible, environmentally sustainable, fulfills its important sacred use, and represents Makom Community with animals, colors, and symbols that reflect us. I think Zoey’s t-shirt says it all. “100% Magic.”