If you didn't know Ohev Shalom too well, and you walked into our building for the first time, it probably wouldn't surprise you to learn that our building was constructed in the 1960s. It's not so much that there are hints everywhere, it's more like the whole building screams, "SIXTIES!!" Between the cinder-block walls, the ubiquitous dark wood, and the 'high church'-style sanctuary, I think it's pretty unmistakably the product of its time. Personally, I love our building, and I feel very much at home in our sanctuary. And the point I'm trying to make is not about whether the design is objectively 'good' or 'bad,' I'll leave that to personal taste. What I want to say is that our building - and arguably all buildings, or at least all houses of worship - tell a story about the people who constructed them.
There is no such thing as a 'timeless' holy space. In fact, I believe that part of what makes something holy and special is its connection to the era, people, and culture around it. Abraham Joshua Heschel talked about Shabbat as 'holiness in time,' NOT in space, which can evoke a sense of timelessness. And in some ways, he was right. Celebrating Shabbat has remained a constant, core value among Jews for millenia. However, it is our ability to interpret, reinterpret, and reinterpret AGAIN what Shabbat means to us that has truly kept it alive in our hearts, minds, and communities. There is a delicate balance between something being universal, and also unique to us right here, right now.
This week's Torah reading gives us detailed instructions on how to construct the Tabernacle in the desert (or as one of my Bat Mitzvah students describes it: a synagogue on the go!). Yet despite all these incredibly intricate and micro-managing specifications, we also know that in later Israelite history, the two Temples that would eventually be built in Jerusalem were NOT built according to these guidelines. God gave the Israelites specific instructions, but a few generations later (and then again a few hundred years after that) they went with their own designs instead. Why? Because they too wanted something that spoke to the culture and fashion of their time; that ol' Tabernacle was SO 200 years ago...
In our parasha, God speaks a very famous line: "Let them make me a Sanctuary, so that I might dwell among them" (Ex. 25:8). Is there only one way to build a sanctuary? No. Every house of worship is unique, and it should be unique, because it is telling a story. Ours tells a beautiful tale of the history of our congregation, and the Jewish community of Delaware County. We travel around the world visiting other synagogues, not so we can marvel at how they are identical to ours back home, but so that we can learn about their culture and their stories. Sanctuaries don't just contain the Presence of God; they also contain the presence of our people, our ancestors. And that truly fills them with holiness, and makes them 'groovy' places to pray!