From the Archives: The Israel Window
By Susan Cohen, member, Holy Blossom Archives Committee
One of the most emotional symbols of Israel at Holy Blossom Temple is at the same time one of the smallest and most hidden.
Climb to the very top of the second floor above the Alice and Bernard Herman Chapel and you will see five small windows completing the stained glass series that makes the synagogue so distinctive. The artist Peter Haworth began the design in 1965 but it took eight years for the complete group to be developed and dedicated. These windows reflect the theme of ‘place‘: our hope for a universal world (a small rose window symbolizing the United Nations), our love of Canada, and two windows portraying our previous synagogues on Richmond St. and Bond St.
The Israel window is the fifth window on the south wall; it was one of the last to be dedicated (in 1972). Look closely and you will see a map of Israel and in the upper left in tiny form the country’s official state seal, along with the message in Hebrew: “Zot Ha-aretz l’Zarachah Etnennah”. (This is the land … I will give unto thy seed. Deuteronomy 34:4.)
Israel’s official seal is a menorah with two olive branches. The menorah is actually the same one depicted in the Arch of Titus in the Roman Forum. That arch celebrated Rome’s victory in the Jewish-Roman war 66 – 74 C.E. One of the carved reliefs depicts the menorah, part of the spoils of war, carried aloft by the Jewish captives. When the seal was being designed, some objected to using that specific menorah which they felt was a symbol of the Temple’s destruction, but the creators of the seal were motivated by a different vision, seeing it as representative of Israel’s rebirth.
As small as this window is, it reflects Holy Blossom’s long-standing interest in Israel. One of our earliest presidents, Alfred Benjamin, was a president of the first Zionist Society organized in Toronto in 1898. Temple’s influential Rabbi Solomon Jacobs appeared at a Zionist meeting in 1908 and declared his sympathy with the movement. The “firebrand” Rabbi Abraham Feinberg advocated for Israeli statehood and our Director of Education, Heinz Warschauer, gave our students textbooks with biographies of Theodore Herzl and Joseph Trumpeldor to read. Holy Blossom has held the land of Israel close to its heart for well over a century.
(The Archives Committee receives inquiries regularly. We invite you to contact us about this or other areas of interest at: [email protected] We are always interested in learning and sharing more about our remarkable history. We also encourage you to examine the archival displays in the Schwartz-Reisman Atrium.)