Utah’s New Synagogue Opens to AcclaimDecember 19, 2008
Temple Har Shalom Combines Art, Architecture, Judaism and Skiing
PARK CITY, Utah, Dec 18, 2008
Put together a world-renown Japanese ceramic artist, a world-class German architect, 35 acres of pristine land in the mountains of Utah, a quest for spirituality, and the result is probably not what you would expect.
After 14 years of rented office space converted into sanctuaries and classrooms, the Jewish community of Park City, Utah has opened the doors to its first synagogue, Temple Har Shalom, literally Mountain of Peace. Not only is it located in the last place you might expect to find a thriving and growing Jewish community, but it is also a center for spirituality that uses international influences to integrate art and architecture with the area’s intrinsic beauty, bound with a love for Jewish life, a passion for learning, and skiing.
“We have a building that exudes the feelings and concepts and mission of what our synagogue stands for,” said Adam Bronfman, who sits on the Temple Har Shalom Board of Directors and is a founding member of the congregation. “The architecture of this space is very open with lots of light, high ceilings, an expansive sacred space, and classrooms that speak to Judaism’s traditions of exploration and learning. And those are our values as an open, welcoming community that says to everybody, ‘Come, celebrate life with us.”
As the congregation began to take root, the desire for a building grew. But Bronfman, who is managing director of The Samuel Bronfman Foundation, was passionate in his belief that the first step must be to hire a permanent rabbi who could unify the fledgling congregation. Previously, traveling rabbis would come for special occasions and holidays and then leave. Bronfman contended that the right spiritual leader would set the tone for the community and the rest would follow.
Shortly thereafter, Rabbi Josh Aaronson was hired and in 2003, he pulled together a core group of synagogue members and began to float the idea of a permanent home for the congregation.
“We had rented space that inhibited our growth and programming. We had been nomads and now we needed a home. And we wanted a place that could meet our spiritual needs but also could sit appropriately in our surroundings, but not look like a ski lodge,” Aaronson said.
Fundraising was a critical next step, as was selecting an architect, who could create a building that would be identifiable as a religious institution, but also meet a wide variety of needs as a center for learning, culture and inclusion, Aaronson said. Naming noted German synagogue-architect Alfred Jacoby set the stage for what would become the centerpiece for the congregation.
Described as accessible, elegant and non-confrontational, Jacoby’s design of Temple Har Shalom is recognized as a community-based synagogue that conforms to its surroundings with its high ceilings and abundant use of wood, and a fireplace set against a brick background. Its magnificent floor to ceiling windows provides a captivating view of the mountains from which Temple Har Shalom derives its name.
“The building tries at all points to connect to the outside very much and give you an impression of a connection between you and that shelter and nature,” Jacoby said. “It’s a place for spirituality and it is also a space for identity where Jews can congregate and have festivals and to really have joy in that building.”
The final touch was the fused glass windows located in the Temple’s main sanctuary. Celebrated artist Jun Kaneko was tapped to create the windows, although he was working in two completely new fields. The first was the concerns of a Judaic temple and the second was working with glass in Jacoby’s architectural space.
“This was my first big architecturally integrated window, so I studied quite a bit about the space and the relationship of natural light coming through the inside of the windows and outside,” Kaneko said. “Then the temple members in Park City had to teach me what is important [for the artwork to reflect] about Judaism. Very early I had an idea about using lot of color, but because people come together at the Temple with a purpose, color would be distracting. I picked blue and white as the major colors because those are spiritual and mysterious colors to me and it just happens to be the colors of the flag of Israel.”
The windows have been likened to a tallis – the Jewish prayer shawl – that wraps around the ark which holds the Torah, Judaism’s most sacred text, while the 12 stained glass windows on either side of the sanctuary are like the fringes of the tallis, enveloping the congregation in spirituality, warmth, and community, Aaronson said.
“After much hard work, we now have a building that brings the outside in, so that every public space has a stunning view of our natural surroundings, while still being intimate and warm,” he said. “People love being in our building.”