Beth Sholom Congregation (Elkins Park, Pennsylvania)

Beth Sholom Congregation (Elkins Park, Pennsylvania)

Beth Sholom Synagogue
Beth Sholom Congregation (Elkins Park, Pennsylvania) is located in Philadelphia
Location 8231 Old York Road
Elkins Park,
Cheltenham Township,
Pennsylvania, USA
Area 3.9 acres (1.6 ha)
Built 1954
Architect Frank Lloyd Wright
Architectural style Modern
Governing body Private
NRHP Reference # 07000430[1]
Significant dates
Added to NRHP March 29, 2007
Designated NHL 2007-03-29[2]
Designated PHMC September 21, 2008[3]

Beth Sholom Congregation is a Conservative synagogue located in the Philadelphia suburb of Elkins Park, Pennsylvania. It is the only synagogue designed by famed architect Frank Lloyd Wright. Beth Sholom is Hebrew for House of Peace.

The building has been called a startling, translucent, modernist evocation of an ancient temple, transposed to a Philadelphia suburb by Frank Lloyd Wright.[4]

In 2007, the building was named a National Historic Landmark:

"Beth Sholom Synagogue ... is a new National Historic Landmark because of its significance in the history of American architecture. The glazed glass pyramidal tower, built in the 1950s, reflects two dominant metaphors—the tent and the mountain—to convey the sense of a collective sacredness. It is nationally significant as one of Wright's most important commissions during his long and productive career."[5]


  • Congregation 1
  • Building 2
  • Gallery 3
  • References 4
  • Further reading 5
  • External links 6


The congregation originally established its synagogue in the Logan neighborhood of Philadelphia in 1919 but was one of the first congregations to move to the suburbs at its present home in the 1950s.

  • 1919-1964 - Rabbi Mortimer J. Cohen
  • 1964-2000 - Aaron Landes
  • 2000-2003 - Rabbi Gershon Schwartz
  • 2003-2004 - Rabbi Frederic Kazan (interim)
  • 2004–present - Rabbi David Glanzberg-Krainin
  • 2004–present - Rabbi Andrea Merow
  • 1957-1967 - Cantor Seymour Schwartzman
  • 1968-1971 - Cantor Neil Newman
  • 1971-1975 - Cantor Robert H. Albert
  • 1975-2011 - Hazzan David F. Tilman


The building was designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, who accepted the commission in September 1953. The building was completed and consecrated in 1959. With its steeply inclined walls of translucent fiberglass and plastic projecting skyward like a "luminous Mount Sinai" (Wright's own description), it has been cited as an example of the Mayan Revival architecture style. During the day, the interior is lit by natural light entering through the translucent walls overhead. At night, the entire building glows from interior artificial lighting.

The roof of Beth Sholom Synagogue at sunset.

In front of the synagogue, and separated from it by about 25 feet (7.6 m), is a laver or fountain. In ancient days, the laver (from the word "to lave" or "wash") was made of copper. In it worshipers would wash their hands before the sacrifice and service. The lovely fountain with flowing waters in front of the entrance is a symbol of the old laver and is also a symbol of purity upon entering religious worship.

The main sanctuary is large enough to hold about 1020 people. The second sanctuary, which holds roughly a hundred, is on the first floor of the synagogue. The main sanctuary was placed on the second floor to inspire a feeling that the people in the room are closer to heaven. Adding to the impression is the enormous tented fiberglass roof rising towards the heavens. "Tours are given by docents several days a week".[6]

The synagogue is a part of the Frank Lloyd Wright Historic Society and because of that, the current owners cannot make changes to the building without permission from the organization. For example, the carpet, which is a beige color symbolizing the sands of the desert the Jews had to cross, cannot be changed without permission of the body. This has made updating the building for modern electricity and heating difficult, causing the main sanctuary to be very cold in winter. The only exception to the needed approval was the addition of a chair lift so that the synagogue could comply with laws promoting access for people with disabilities. The floor plans of both sanctuary rooms do not allow for any additions or space changes required to accommodate members with wheel chairs.

The design is considered by critics to be the "most expressive" design drafted in Wright's career for any house of worship. It has been listed by the American Institute of Architects as one of the 17 American buildings which are to be preserved as an example of Wright's contribution to American architecture.



  1. ^ "National Register Information System". National Register of Historic Places.  
  2. ^ "Beth Sholom Synagogue". National Historic Landmark summary listing. National Park Service. Retrieved 2007-11-12. 
  3. ^ "PHMC Historical Markers". Historical Marker Database. Pennsylvania Historical & Museum Commission. Retrieved December 30, 2013. 
  4. ^ Joseph M. Siry, Beth Sholom Synagogue: Frank Lloyd Wright and Modern Religious Architecture (University of Chicago Press, 2011)
  5. ^ "Interior Secretary Kempthorne Designates 12 National Historic Landmarks in 10 States". U.S. Department of the Interior Press Release. 2007-04-04. Archived from the original on 2007-05-02. Retrieved 2007-04-15. 
  6. ^

Further reading

  • Siry, Joseph M. Beth Sholom Synagogue: Frank Lloyd Wright and Modern Religious Architecture (University of Chicago Press, 2011) 705 pp.

External links

  • Official Congregation homepage
  • Beth Sholom Preservation Foundation
  • Entry in the Database of Jewish Communities
  • Architectural details
  • Photos on Arcaid