Reprinted with permission as a public service by the Landmark Society of the Niagara Frontier, now the Preservation Buffalo Niagara
Temple Beth Zion - Table of Contents
Temple Beth Zion - 1966-1967
805 Delaware at Barker (SE)
Architect: Harrison & Abramovitz
Founded 27 November, 1850
Unhappy with the use of the Polish liturgy in its services and the strict Orthodox nature of the congregation at Temple Beth-El formerly of Richmond Avenue, eleven German Jews seceded to establish a congregation concurrent with the German liturgy. Under the direction of Rev. Slatkey, formerly with Temple Beth-El, the group began holding meetings in the parlor of the home of Mr. Sinzheimer at 55 Oak Street. Between its founding and the year 1863, the well being of the congregation stood on somewhat shaky ground.
In 1863, a new "Reform" movement began to sweep the Jewish faith. Curious about this movement, members of the congregation requested Rev. Wise of Cincinnati to send a minister to educate them on it. These members rented space in the Kremlin Block on the southeast corner of Main and Eagle Streets and on 7 September, 1863, with twenty-two people gathered, heard of the new liberal ideologies in the Jewish faith.
For the following year, there was little action by any of those that had heard the talk. On 9 October, 1864, the group once again gathered at the Kremlin and this time reorganized as the first Reform Jewish congregation in the city. Within one week, membership had grown to forty-six people. As a result of this action, there now were two Beth Zion congregations in the city.The original body of members, no longer certain of its direction soon after merged with the Reform congregation.
Seeking a larger space in which to meet, the group purchased the former Niagara Street Methodist Church (destroyed) from William Fargo for $13,000. After a period of extensive renovation to the building, on 25 May, 1865 they rededicated the building as Temple Beth Zion. In 1886, the congregation sold the building to the Masons for the site of a Masonic Temple and for the next four years, they were a congregation without a building. While looking for a new site on which to construct a house of worship they met in the Universalist Church of Our Father on North and Mariner (destroyed) and the Central Presbyterian Church (destroyed), then on Genesee and Pearl.
The first temple
In May of 1899, the congregation purchased the former Cushman Estate at 599 Delaware and immediately began to construct a magnificent Byzantine Temple [photos] designed by Edward A. and William W. Kent. On 12 September, 1890, they dedicated their $95,000 house of worship. Constructed of Medina sandstone, an immense copper dome marked the highly distinguished building. It was at this location that the congregation flourished, experiencing its greatest increase in membership.
Tragedy struck on 4 October, 1961, when a fire, fueled by flammable liquids being used to refinish the pews, destroyed the building. Within forty minutes of its discovery, the fire destroyed the magnificent central dome, causing it to collapse into the building. With the building a total loss, the congregation, after seventy years there, was once again without a house of worship.
The second temple
The following years proved to be pivotal for them as the leaders strived to maintain a consistent level of spirituality and guidance to the members. During planning and construction of the present building, they held services at Westminster Presbyterian Church, Temple Beth-El, the Jewish Center of Buffalo and Kleinhans Music Hall. On 21 June, 1964, Rabbi Joseph L. Fink, accompanied by the architect, broke ground for the new house of worship. Almost three years later, on 15 April, 1967, the completed building was dedicated.
The building is perhaps the most striking place of worship in the city. Its soaring, scalloped walls are symbolic of the Ten Commandments. They pitch outward as a representation of man's arms, outstretched in prayer. The interior of the building continues the striking appearance of the exterior. The walls are bathed in a diffused natural light [photos] resulting from the skylights ringing the perimeter of the building.
The 1,000 seat auditorium focuses upon two thirty foot high Commandment Tablets flanking the highly noted east wall window. Created by artist Ben Shahn, it tells the story of the Lord speaking to Job through a whirlwind. The Henry Lee Willet Studios of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania executed the forty foot tall window.
Being constructed in the round, the building does not contain a cornerstone. Instead, the original cornerstone from the building at 599 Delaware is placed in the rear wall of the sanctuary ark. To it has been added the phrase "Rebuilt 1966."