Written by Eddie Jacobs, Architect.
See Eddie's Webpage here.
The Hampton Synagogue represents a radical departure in synagogue and sanctuary design. The entire project was conceived as an abstract retelling of the story of the giving of the Torah on Mount Sinai. The entire eastern wall of the sanctuary is a sculptural mural, representing the theme of Sinaitic revelation. The windows and the parochet/Ark cover envision the picture of a mountain on a heavenly backdrop. The parochet/Ark curtain is made from brass, each piece painstakingly colored with natural patina resulting in the unique colorations of the composition. The design envelops the space and provides a dramatic setting replete with Biblical allusion, allowing the worshiper to make his or her own personal associations and connections.
Observing the composition, one can feel the sky expanding and contracting, and the mountain itself shaking as the cloud of glory - in the form of the eternal light - descends upon the mountain. Yet, this is only the first level of the composition; looking beyond this outer layer, the natural foliage on the outside of the building becomes an integral part of the entire panorama. Through the spaces of parochet pieces, one can see the Ark, a 16-ton Jerusalem stone sculpture – literally and figuratively a ‘mountain within the mountain.’ Housing the Torah Scrolls, this element is at the visual and contextual core of The Hampton Synagogue. Of the most famous homilies in Midrashic literature are those that relay the notion that somehow, all of the people of Israel - past, present and future- were all miraculously present at the Sinaitic Revelation, the giving of the Torah. In some way, all of us were there.
The architectural design of The Hampton Synagogue is meant to evoke a tent, hearkening back to the tent of the patriarch Abraham. Open and welcoming on all sides, it is an inviting space that draws the visitor within. The wooden arches are meant to echo the inner structure of a tent, with the main support converged around the central bimah, giving pivotal focus to that specific area and to the entire structure.
The Ark is opened in a rather unconventional manner: The stone suspended to the right of the Ark is pulled down, causing the bottom half of the Parochet/Ark cover to rise. Floating and rotating like an ethereal presence above the Ark is the the ner tamid/eternal light. Constructed of slumped glass elements, this piece is meant to evoke associations with the cloud of glory as it descended upon Mount Sinai at the time of the revelation.
Frequently, the mechitza, or dividing partition, of a sanctuary - designed to separate the sexes during the prayer service in Orthodox environments - becomes an imposing presence in a sanctuary environment. Ever sensitive to the eclectic nature of this congregation, the rabbinic leadership and advisers of the Hampton synagogue were determined to find a balance between normative Orthodox adherence as well as aesthetic and egalitarian considerations. Wishing to draw worshippers in, rather than drive them away, a lenient yet fully Orthodox approach was sanctioned and adopted in the mechitza design. The mechitza is constructed of bowed brass tubing, patinated in the same manner as the parochet. It is in fact an extension of the parochet, meandering like a river from the Eastern Wall back to the sanctuary entrance between the similarly sculpted menorahs that frame the outside entrance to the sanctuary.
The "Spielberg" Torah, donated to the synagogue by the acclaimed filmmaker and director when he officiated at the synagogue’s dedication ceremony, has been given a prominent place at the entrance of the sanctuary. Owing to its origins, it is also meant to serve as a Holocaust memorial for the congregation. The Torah is standing in an acrylic case whose bottom section is a pictorial document illustrating the story of the synagogue dedication ceremony. The entire work rotates in its mount so that the complete scroll and the pictorial material may be viewed from all angles.
The landscape of The Hampton Synagogue was designed in concert with overall building design in order to create a harmonious environment, inside and out. Once on the grounds of synagogue, one is enveloped by stunning natural foliage which insulates the campus from the surrounding environment creating a peaceful and tranquil oasis of spirituality. Brilliantly conceived by landscape designer Larry Schepps, The Hampton Synagogue grounds give balance and context to the facilities.