Project Created & Executed by: Ali Senal
Photography by: Tal Reichert
Facilitated by the Gilda Slifka Internship
at the Hadassah-Brandeis Institute
at Brandeis University
Congregation Shaarei Tefillah of Newton, a Modern Orthodox Synagogue, was founded in 1983. The most recent renovation to their sanctuary finished in 2011 and all the furnishings were designed by Presentations Gallery. According to Shaarei Tefillah, “The idea of an inclusive journey guided the spiritual and artistic vision” for the new sanctuary. The congregation wanted their sanctuary to “inspire feelings of spiritual transcendence without forfeiting a sense of Divine indwelling and communal intimacy.”
Shaarei Tefillah honors halakhic tradition with separate entrances for men and women and separate sections for seating (with a mechitza as a ritual divider). While the congregation honors tradition, they also aim for their space to be “fully accessible” to all, including those that are physically challenged. The mechitza “creates a sense of fluid motion through alternating curved panels.” The way in which the panels are placed is meant to mimic the “subtle feeling of propulsion along the gentle currents of a flowing river.”
Congregation Kadimah-Toras Moshe was founded in 1941 and was the first Orthodox Synagogue in Brighton. It was originally known as “Congregation Kadimah,” but the name was changed when it merged with “Congregation Toras Moshe” of Roxbury in 1960. This congregation is self-described as a “vibrant Orthodox community where all are welcome.”
Kadimah-Toras Moshe currently resides in a renovated house, with plans to move next door to a newly constructed building. The current sanctuary space consists of both men and women’s sections with a mechitza used as a divider. According to the congregation’s president, Susan Miller, the mechitza height was raised about 45 years ago to accommodate the sensibilities of the congregation. The new building will feature a central mechitza.
Young Israel of Brookline, founded in 1953, is “one of the largest Orthodox congregations in New England” and is self-described as, “an anchor of Jewish life in Boston.” The congregation was originally gathered in a small house, but shortly after moved to a larger space to accommodate their growing community. In 1994, an electrical fire destroyed their building and they were forced to construct a new Synagogue. In November 1996, Young Israel dedicated their new shul, which seats 525 congregants. Young Israel prides itself on bringing together people from different “cultural, economic, and professional” fields.
Young Israel has two women’s sections. One section is located in the balcony. The other is located on the ground floor and is surrounded by an ornate mechitza constructed from Hebrew lettering. This synagogue was designed by Graham Gund, president of the “Gund Partnership,” a prominent architecture firm located in Cambridge. According to a Boston Globe article written in 1997, Gund wanted to bring “Jerusalem light” into the space. There are “tiny prisms” set into the glass which “project little rainbows into the sanctuary.” The article also expresses that the architecture of Young Israel expresses a “strong sense of community.”