Inspired by a holy shrine, an Owings Mills congregation built a memorial dedicated to the victims of Sept. 11 and the ultimate goal of world peace.

Western Wall is taking synagogue to new heights

September 10, 2005|By Joe Nawrozki | Joe Nawrozki,SUN STAFF

Seemingly transported across the ages, more than 600 blocks of limestone from Jerusalem rise in a simple yet breathtaking wall above the sanctuary of the Har Sinai Congregation synagogue in Owings Mills.

Over 45 days, they were lifted, one at a time, by two masons on scaffolding using muscle and pulley, then placed and mortared with the deft touch of craftsmen.

In commemoration of the fourth anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, the synagogue's tribute to Jerusalem's Western Wall will be dedicated tomorrow to the memory of those lost in the attacks and their families -- and to future world peace.

Rabbi Bradd Boxman said the stones in Har Sinai's temple are, like those still standing in the holy city, emblematic of the resilience of generations.

"We have seen as a people terrible times akin to 9/11," Rabbi Boxman said. "And like the people, these stones have witnessed and survived."

A group of dignitaries will help dedicate the wall at 2 p.m. tomorrow. The wall was donated by congregants Andrew and Julie Levine and other family members.

"The wall is all about peace and unity, situated in a precious place," said Andrew Levine. He declined to say how much the wall cost.

The Western Wall in Jerusalem, a retaining wall that was part of the Second Temple, remains the holiest shrine in the Jewish faith. It is visited by hundreds daily, and many insert written prayers and messages in the crevices of the stones.

Sheila Mentz, religious school director at Har Sinai, said she has never been to Israel, but when she saw the completed wall at the Owings Mills synagogue, she was overcome by "a certain feeling."

"Jewish ancient history is right here where I work. It's a wonderful feeling," she said.

Har Sinai is the oldest continuous Reform congregation in the U.S.

Founded in 1842, regular services were held during the congregation's first year at the home of Moses Hutzler on Exeter Street and Eastern Avenue in East Baltimore, historians say.

The neighborhood eventually became the soul of Jewish Baltimore with schools, societies, and synagogues. Along what would later become Corned Beef Row, there were delicatessens, bakeries and a fresh horseradish store. Live chickens could be bought on Lombard Street.

Har Sinai joined the northwest migration of Jewish places of worship, first to Eutaw Street, then to Park Heights.

With many of its members living in the suburbs, the congregation moved in 2002 to a 17-acre site on Walnut Avenue near Greenspring Avenue. The congregation includes about 500 families.

The wall covers the front of the temple's sanctuary, rising more than 30 feet in the center and 20 feet on each side. The stones, many weighing 50 pounds, were quarried three years ago in Jerusalem and shipped to the United States, Levine said.

Don Conrad, owner of Bayside Tile and Marble in Arnold, said that placing the Jerusalem stones "was not a job for everyone. It was a very special effort."

He said that one of the processes used to create the various design finishes on the face of the stones was probably done with a blowtorch and water in Israel.

Har Sinai's wall, Rabbi Boxman said, is perhaps the only one of its kind in the United States.

One section of the wall was constructed to allow congregants and community members to insert prayers and messages on paper into the crevices where mortar was left out, replaced by spacers and dark foam.

The rabbi said that the messages will, on a regular basis, be carried to Jerusalem and placed in the Western Wall on "missions of mitzvah."

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