Synagogue This is the Congregation Beth Zion synagogue in Cote St. Luc, Quebec. As with many synagogues, not only does it house the large sacred space of worship, it also has a smaller space of worship, a large and beautiful dining room for receptions, and a Jewish daycare.
Star of David The Magen David, or the Shield of David, also called the Star of David, became a symbol of the Jewish faith during the middle ages. David is the King David described in the Hebrew Scriptures. In the story, he was just a boy when he used a slingshot to kill a giant, a large man named Goliath. He grew up to be a famous king, built a palace, and wrote many prayerful poems called Psalms. The six-pointed star is made of two intersecting triangles. Various interpretations of its symbolism have been given. Some say the six sides symbolize the universality of God. Others say that they represent north, south, east, west, the land above and the world below.
Doors with symbols of the Jewish Faith These beautiful stained glass doors are found at the Congregation Shaare Zion in Cote St. Luc, Quebec. The Scrollscontain the sacred writings of the Sefer Torah on which are written the five books of Moses. The Stone Tablets of the Ten Commandmentswere given by G-d to Moses at Mount Sinai after the Hebrew (Jewish) people had fled their slavery in Egypt. A Menorahis a candle holder with three candles on each side representing the six days of the week. The one in the middle represents the Sabbath. Magen David is the six-sided Star of David (King David of the Hebrew Scriptures). Ram’s Horn is used to call the people to come together for instruction or prayer. It is blown at Rosh Hashanah – the Jewish New Year. Cabbalah Cup is used on the Sabbath to drink wine.
Woolen Hanging Depicting Important Episodes in Jewish History • The Ram’s Horn – used to call the people together. • The Ten Commandments given to Moses on Mount Sinai • The Burning Bush on Mount Sinai indicating the presence of G-d • The crown of the Kings – Saul, David, Solomon • The Scrolls of the Torah – the five first books of the Hebrew Scriptures: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy • A Prayer Shawl – placed over the shoulders of a man in prayer • A Menorah – seven branched candle holder, one lit each day of the week. The center one is lit on the Sabbath.
Jewish Symbols in Stained Glass From left to right, you can observe the ram’s horn, MountSinai, the flames of the burning bush, the cloud at the top of Mount Sinai, and the hand of G-d presenting the Ten Commandments – all significant in the story of Moses freeing the people from slavery in Egypt as described in the book of Exodus.
Tablets of the Ten Commandments These two tablets covered in Hebrew script represent the two tablets that G-d gave to Moses on Mount Sinai - on which were written the Ten Commandments (also called the Decalogue of Love, for they tell people how to live their relationships well – with God and others). 1. I am the Lord your G-d. You shall have no other gods beside me. 2. Do not make false images of G-d 3. Do not take the name of the Lord in vain. (swearing or cursing) 4. Remember the Sabbath day and keep it holy. 5. Honour your father and your mother. 6. Do not commit murder. 7. Do not cheat on your marriage partner. 8. Do not steal. 9. Do not tell lies about other people (in court). 10. Do not desire (covet) things that belong to others. The first three relate directly to G-d, and the rest concern the duties of the people to live well in community.
The Ram’s Horn The Ram’s horn is blown to gather the people together to pray or to receive guidance. The horn is blown with joy and gusto at Rosh Hashanah – the Jewish New Year. It is made from a horn of a ram that has been sanded and polished until it glows.
Mezuzah The Mezuzah is a cylindrical shaped container placed on the right doorpost of Jewish places of work, homes, and synagogues. Written by hand, it contains words of the Great Commandment - the “Shema” from Deuteronomy 6: 4- 9.When a Jewish person enters a building, they touch their lips and then the mezuzah. This action expresses their love of G-d, and their willingness to live by these words.
Tefellin The tefellin, also called phylacteries, are small leather boxes worn during prayer. They contain small handwritten parchment scrolls on which is written the Shema and other significant verses from the Torah. The Shema is: “Hear, O Israel: The Lord is our G-d, the Lord is one. And you shall love the Lord thy G-d with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your might. And these words which I command you this day shall be upon your heart, and you shall teach them diligently unto your children and you shall say them over to them whether at rest or walking about, lying down or at rising; you shall fasten them on your hand as a sign and on your forehead as a circlet;you shall write them on the doorposts and on your gate ”. The first is tied high on a person’s left arm facing the heart to remind the wearer that his emotions should be directed towards G-d. The second is placed high on a person’s forehead and reminds the owner to keep his mind and thoughts focused on G-d and his teachings. Each boy, aged 13, receives his tefellin at his Bar Mitzvah.
Interior of a Synagogue – Bimah at the Front This is the front of the Shaare Zion Synagogue. On the left is the podium where the cantor stands to chant the prayers. On the right side of the stage is Bimah - the podium from where the Rabbi (leader, teacher) reads the Torah. The Ark which holds the scrolls of the Torah is in the center. There are two Menorah (seven branched candlesticks) – one on each side of the Ark. Above the Ark are two lions (representing Israel and Judah) that stand on guard before the tablets of the Ten Commandments given by G-d to Moses.
Interior of Congregation Beth Zion – Bimah and Ark Here it is easy to see the Bimah in the center aisle, and the Ark that is on the stage. The curtain hiding the sacred scrolls of the Ark has a symbolic design of the tree of life. The Menorah with its three plus three plus one candle is plainly visible on the left side of the Ark, and a Hanukkea – with four candles on each side of a center candle is on the right side of the Ark. A Menorah is used weekly – thus the seven candles; whereas a Hanukkea is used at Hanukkah to celebrate the miracle that one day’s worth of oil continued to burn for eight days. Note that this is an Orthodox Jewish synagogue, so the women sit above in the balcony.
Beth Zion – Open Ark, the scrolls in their mantles, and the stained glass above – the fire and the Ten Commandments • The Torah scrolls in their mantle coverings can be seen in the open Ark. • The flames depicted in the stained glass that rises above the Ark depict: • The flames of the burning bush – out of which G-d spoke to Moses. So too does G-d speak now through the words of the Torah. • The fire atop Mount Sinai – when Moses went to speak with G-d, and G-d gave Moses the Ten Commandments. • At the top of the initial flame the flame continues between bricks as though through a chimney – one of the chimneys of the gas chambers of the Holocaust. • The words of the Ten Commandments swirl in the top flame.
The Stained Glass above the Ark This picture of the flames above the Ark in the synagogue of Beth Zion has been taken from a dramatic angle.
The Open Ark: The Sefer Torah scrolls in their Mantles Each Ark contains several Torah Scrolls that the congregation has collected from various places in the world. Some might be very old, or some may have come from a far away land brought by one of the families. They are all reverenced as writings of G-d. Here the scrolls are covered by their mantles, and topped by silver caps that have silver bells. The mantles remind the people of the clothes of the ancient Rabbis (teachers and leaders). The bells on the caps are like the bells that adorned the bottom of the Rabbis’ cloaks, which announced their arrival as they approached. The breast plates are reminiscent of the breast plates that soldiers wear into war. While these breastplates are merely decorative, they remind the people that the word of G-d is a protection and following it ensures a good life in the world.
Open Sefer Torah Scroll with Yad A Yad is a pointer. It is usually made of silver, and has a small hand with a pointing finger at the end. It is used to help a reader keep his place and to prevent the reader from touching and spoiling the sheepskin of the scroll. A scroll is written in Hebrew, and read from back to front. Every letter is printed by hand with special ink. Every scroll must be identical, so it takes at least a year and a half to complete one scroll. Sefer means that these are scrolls that are read on Sabbath or on high holidays. The Torah refers to the five ‘books’ of the Law: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy.
The Kippah Here you see a Jewish man wearing a Kippah, which is sometimes called a yarmulke or a capel. A man wears a Kippah to remind them of the constant presence and care of G-d. The Kippah may be worn at any time, but it is always worn at synagogue or in prayer. Usually black or white, it may be any colour and made of any material. Jewish women do not wear Kippahs. At synagogue some women may wear lace coverings on their heads. Women in the Hasidic branch of Judaism wear wigs.
Jewish Man with a Prayer Shawl or Tallith This is Mr. Sheldon Weinstein, the Executive Director of the Beth Zion Congregation, who so willingly let me take his picture in a prayer shawl. A shawl may be any colour. The important feature is the tassel or tzizit on each corner. These corner tassels have a total of 613 knots which are the number of laws in the Torah. When a man puts on his Tallith, he says special prayers, and then feels wrapped and ready to be totally immersed in his devotions.
Memorial to the Six Million Jews killed in the Holocaust Most synagogues have a memorial to the Six Million Jews who were killed in the Holocaust during the Second World War. Canada has 32 million citizens. Six million is almost one fifth of our whole population. It numbers almost the whole population of the province of Quebec. Six million is hard to imagine. Yet these were real people, most of them women and children.
Holocaust Memorial with Train Tracks This memorial of the Holocaust that is outside synagogue Beth Zion not only has train tracks etched into its surface leading to the various camps where the six million Jews were gassed; it contains the ashes of several Jews who died in the Holocaust.