SYNAGOGUE & GROUNDS
The third synagogue for Congregation Gemiluth Chassodim was begun in 1951 with the construction of the Social Hall/Auditorium which has a performance platform, kitchen and dining space, and classrooms for religious education. The second phase was completed c.1960, and included the sanctuary and ark, prefunction area, commemorative courtyards, formal entry and rabbinical offices.
The building was designed by Max J. Heinberg, a Temple member and noted architect with the firm Barron, Heinberg and Brocato. The synagogue is considered one of his best works. The building style is Mid-Century Modern, which is characterized by such features as simple geometry in construction, clean lines with minimal ornamentation, multiple roof lines, large expanses of glass to achieve natural lighting, use of glass, brick, steel and other metals. Two artistic features of the building are its masonry exterior fascias and stained glass columns.
The Congregation is on the National Register of Historical Places in Louisiana, as the synagogue embodies the distinctive characteristics of the Mid-Century Modern period and style.
The sanctuary seats 360, for services, holidays or performances, however, we have often drawn large crowds for the High Holidays, concerts and funerals of well-known members. The seats are cushioned with arms, arranged in two sections with a generous center aisle. The rear of the sanctuary is a wall of glass which looks out onto the courtyard and the Endowment Monument. The sides of the sanctuary are lined with masonry columns that contain large chunks of stained glass, that deliver splashes of color throughout the synagogue when morning and afternoon light shines through. The ceilings are enormously tall, with levels which were designed to resemble the tents of our ancestors; beautiful modern lighting is carefully placed in the area.
The ark is the focal point in the synagogue. It houses three Torahs with magnificent velvet covers and sterling silver ornamentation. The ark is topped with two white marble tablets symbolizing the Ten Commandments. The ark was recently refurbished, the exterior being embellished with gold, and new drapes of old gold and sheer gold mesh serve to open the ark. A modern fixture hangs over the ark as the "eternal light."
The Temple MUSEUM is a favorite space at the synagogue. The most imposing item in the museum is the ark from the Congregation's second Temple, salvaged before the fire that destroyed the building. The eternal light from that Temple hangs over the ark. A hand-blown amber glass cylinder is a second eternal light, which is embellished with a metal shield cut in a menorah-shaped stencil. Many artifacts given or lent by members through the years include old family menorahs, ancient prayerbooks and decorative elements which fill the shelves. Many genealogies of the founding families of the Congregation had been compiled by Jacque Caplan who had taken a special interest in the Museum and its contents. Large leather scrapbooks contain news clippings that have been collected through the years.
HINCHIN SOCIAL HALL
This large space was used as the sanctuary when the first phase of the synagogue was constructed. A "stage" held the ark and pulpit (bima). Behind the stage, there were several classrooms. Once the new classrooms were constructed, these rooms became storage areas until recently when they are being reclaimed for more efficient use including an art room.Hinchin Hall is named for Rabbi Emeritus Martin I. Hinchin, who retired in 1988 after 30 years service as Rabbi for the Temple.
TASK GARDEN ROOM
The Garden Room was designed as a "dining space" and indeed it is used for the serving of food. However, it has been a valuable space that has been used in many ways. It is our smaller "social hall". It is where buffets are set up for food service; it has been used as an adult education classroom; it has been used as the Temple Board Room; it has been used for Sisterhood lunch meetings, and it has been used for Shabbat services and Torah Study. The room looks out onto the courtyard through a wall of glass; birds are regularly fed bread from the kitchen, and they compete with the resident turtle family for the crumbs. For these reasons, Rabbi Arnold Task enjoyed delivering Shabbat services in this room, and it ultimately gained the name the "Task Garden Room."