Congregation Israel of San Antonio was founded in August of 2006 as a 501c3 religious community. 40 people desired to create an alternative expression of Judaism to the vanguard Temple and Synagogues of long standing in our city. The name Israel was adopted, as it is used to denote those “who wrestle and interact with God!”
A post-denominational covenantal congregation was conceived that would incorporate contemporary and traditional modes of worship, egalitarian in nature, and rich with the sounds of traditional cantorial vocal and instrumental music accompaniments and mixed choral forces. We study from traditional texts and pray from our own “vanity” prayer book and also utilize works from the Orthodox, Conservative, Reform and Reconstructionist philosophies. We sit together as families and community. The community is open to all those genuine in their quest for Jewish living and spiritual fulfillment in the Jewish tradition. If it’s Jewish, we imbibe it!
A Philosophy of the Congregation is expressed in our pew bulletin:
“Our Jewish congregational community strives to provide an atmosphere of welcome, warmth and the holiness of beauty with music and participation during worship. We wish to pray in a manner consistent with the principles of a Covenantal Judaism– a philosophy which blends ritual aspects of current Jewish denominational practices with traditional and contemporary thought.
We strive for an intellectual and soulful pursuit of Jewish philosophy that we may encounter a spiritual path through inquiry and study of Torah. Together we work to welcome all who are committed, interested and inquiring and wish to pray and learn, celebrate and mourn together in a Jewish way; to affirm the inherent dignity, honor, and integrity of every human being as b’tzelem Elohim: created in God’s image; to be dedicated to Torah study, deeds and acts of kindness, in Godly partnership and observances; and to work to attain tikkun olam, by helping others by our deeds in our community in cooperation with other religious and secular organizations.”
Our roster has grown in 2009 to 150 family names and members. CISA invites traditional “membership support” and contribution levels are suggested on a flat scale. All are welcome to participate in any Shabbat or Festival service. High Holy Days seating is invited of those who have supported CISA in the past, either as members or supporters. Tzedakah is always welcome and encouraged. CISA is also blessed with support of community time, talent and treasure. This enables a complete liturgical and festival calendar year-around. Weddings, B’nai Mitzvah, memorial rites, Adult Studies Institute, sacred and non-secular concerts are some of the regular life-cycle events that punctuate our weekly Shabbat Services. You are cordially invited to help create sacred community with us.
Our worship and pastoral leadership is provided by Hazzan David Silverstein, JD, founding ritual leader, Cantor and director, Mr. David Miron our accompanist and choir director and our magnificent professional solo vocal ensemble who enhance our worship throughout the year. Hazzan Silverstein brings his 38 years of pulpit and administrative experience and love of Judaism to the community. Meet him, Mr. Miron and the chorale on our site and in person at services. Hazzan may be contacted at any time of need as he may be useful to you.
Sanctuary, Ritual Symbols and their meaning…
CISA is at home at St. Andrew Lutheran Church, ELCA. In 2004, Hazzan Silverstein became friends with Mr. George Siglin, the Administrator of St. Andrew. George and the pastorate of SALC offered our congregation full use of its facilities and appurtenances shortly after CISA became a congregation in 2006.
Our challenge was to make the beautiful St. Andrew Sanctuary and common areas into a welcoming and “Jewish looking” schule for our Sabbath and Holy Day observances.
Our members and friends designed and built, sewed and crafted Bema (pulpit and altar) covers, an Ark, (cabinet to house the Torah scrolls) Torah stands, cloth scrims to cover Christian worship items out of our respect for their meaning. Many others provided magnificent ritual items, including two scrolls of the Torah as gifts to our Hazzan, and other items to create a Jewish spiritual home that would be Jewish and authentic, and ritually beautiful. Initial reservations about using this holy Christian space were soon dissipated as the Jewish themes began to materialize.
All of these items were designed with portability in mind. They are eco-friendly, utilizing new and recycled items turned into holy Jewish use.
The sanctuary as built features permanent items created for worship by St. Andrew. Arranged in chevrons and accommodating 350 worshippers, the comfortable pews convey a sense of closeness to the officiants and community where participation is beckoned. As one faces forward, one can see others in prayer, the Bema (altar) and the large screen projections used for prayer texts and photographs, the choral forces and accompaniments.
The large art-glass window above the pulpit depicts a Shepherd and flock. A descriptive panel elsewhere informs us that the window depicts the 23rd Psalm of David. Though the worshippers may draw their own reference to Biblical personalities, CISA decided to keep the window visible as it is, allowing the colors to radiate by day, flooding the ark and Torah in sparkling hues.
A focal point in any Jewish synagogue, temporary or permanent is the Ark which embraces the scrolls of the Torah, the original five books of the Bible in scroll form. It is a “bookcase of holiness, an aron hakodesh.” The design of an ark varies from synagogue to synagogue: some are very elaborate and larger than 3 stories high with much ornamentation, to a modest expression containing the real grandeur inside. All have symbolism important to the particular community. They are culled from the Bible’s description of the portable sanctuary and Great Temples in Jerusalem.
Our first ark was a tent like fabrication reminiscent of the portable tabernacle which housed the Ark of the Covenant as it travelled with Israel through the desert. Its colors and decorations were that of a prayer shawl and the priestly vestments worn in ancient days. CISA was gifted with a beautiful, custom designed African purple wood Torah stand which kept the scrolls visible throughout worship, or which could be contained inside the tent-like-ark—a constant reminder before whom we are accountable.
Since space and portability were important to us as “tenants” at St. Andrew, an ark of lightweight plastic polymers (recycled) is now in use, allowing one or two individuals to completely set the holy space and mood for Jewish prayer and study in just minutes. Its basic features were enhanced with individual color tile pieces affixed on the doors and trim. They are arranged in a fashion that reminds one of the chakra points of the human body—a creation of God. The colors are arranged in a progression from white, pinks, orange, yellow and red to purple and royal blue—complimenting the “sefirot” level of Kabalistic origin from basic (white) to the highest realm of the Divine (Sapphire blue).
The doors are two in number, but appear to be four distinct panels, two atop and two below and meet at a triangle, an ancient symbol of stability and holiness. This may remind one of the two sets of tablets brought to the people Israel by Moses. As the doors are opened, two white curtains (parochet) can be drawn back by hand to receive the Torah. They are fashioned to resemble a prayer shawl. They remind us of the separation- the holy from the mundane -in the Great Temple. The curtains are hung by decorative rings; they are translucent to allow the lighted Torah scrolls to remain visible even when the curtains are closed.
Inside the Ark are the two scrolls of the Torah themselves. The number of scrolls needed in any synagogue is not required, though more than one is desired so that reading from various sections of the weekly or festival text is not delayed unduly. The theme of “2 tablets” again is represented by the two scrolls we have in use: one a standard size scroll with blue mantle with a silver pointer (yad); the other a smaller study version with a pointer of pink art glass and silver. Both have Hebrew and Yiddish text on their decorative mantles describing the origin of the mantle and perhaps the scrolls, donated to a community of long ago. Both scrolls are rendered completely by hand in stylistic calligraphy with no punctuations, music notes or vocalization (vowels).
Some synagogues with permanent and fixed arks also decorate and clothe their scrolls with finial ornaments, looking like crowns and pomegranates- symbolism of kingship and priesthood. A decorative breastplate of precious metals and jewels is also found. Together, the mantles, crowns and finials remind us of the priestly vestments of ancient rites. The interior of our ark and the shulchan(altar table) before it, have a cover of the same gold fabric material. The design of the fabric is of olive leaves and stems, conveying the preciousness and royalty of that kept inside and upon which the Torah is chanted.
Atop our portable ark is the Ner Tamid or Eternal Light. This lamp burns throughout our service and reminds us that the presence of the Almighty is eternally with us. It is rendered in a ceramic half circle with perforations that allow the light device within to shine forward and upward. Inside the lamp have been inserted colorful rods of the same colors which are used on the doors, connecting the two with the kabalistic theme. Inserted above these is a gold tile depicting the preciousness contained in the Ark below. A gold leave pineapple figurine stands before the lamp, invoking the international theme of welcome to all who enter our portals.
Behind the Ner Tamid are triangular fabrications of lightweight foam (recycled). These three triangles are painted and distressed to resemble craggy ancient rock, evocative of the theme of Mt. Sinai and the Magen David (the Star of David), the letter SHIN, (a reference to one of God’s names Kel Shaddai-The Almighty God). Some have also suggested that these tips look like the fingers of a hand, spread in blessing in the style of the Kohanim or priest of ancient Israel.
A Menorah is a lamp or candelabra. It is the defining symbol of the Jewish people, not the Star of David, which is both political and pagan in origin. The Menorah makes reference to light and learning and is described in the Torah. The Menorah in the Great Temple was of seven branches like ours, illuminated during services (A chanukiah of nine tapers is used at Chanukah, it is a menorah, too, but specialized for this holiday only). There is a tradition that only the holy Temple in Jerusalem can be illuminated with a seven branched menorah; a synagogue should not burn seven lights, but six or less. In progressive and non-Orthodox congregations one now finds a seven branched menorah with illuminated lamps. The rendering of a Menorah is carefully detailed in scripture.
Our menorah, like many, is particular with its own design. It is of electroplated gold, burnished to a high luster with a Magen David at its center. Its lamps flicker like traditional candles. The overall effect is a traditional style, blending nicely with our modern interpretations elsewhere.
The shulchan (lectern) or readers’ table stands before the ark and the menorah. It is used when the Torah is removed to be chanted. It needs to be large enough for the reader, the Torah unrolled, ritual attendants (gabbaim) and honorees to gather. It can also be the place where the Sabbath/Festival candles, wine, challah bread, and washing pitcher and bowls are placed. Our shulchan cover was sewn by our members of the same cloth used inside the ark. It is then covered with a fringed hanging in multi-hues of red and gold, intricately patterned in the Persian style.
The Smaller Lecterns
Prayer and discourse are presented from two locations in our temporary home. A concept of Jewish worship is that it is conducted among the people from a lower platform to demonstrate the non-ecclesiastic nature of our faith—a leadership of the people, lay and professional-ordained or commissioned. Directly in front of the Shulchan, on the floor level, is a table with a tapestry-like cover from which worship is conducted. It is covered with the fabric as the larger desk behind it. From either location, the officiants may face the congregation or the ark as required of several prayers.
The other lectern is of a more traditional dais type, from which sermons and announcements may be made. Here too, Christian symbols have been respected with a stole-like cover made of the ark fabric and shulchan with a Magen David embroidered upon it. Seasons and festivals see it changed to white or complimentary tones at the discretion of the organizers of the particular service.
Through the generosity of Brookdale Living Patriot Heights and our members Edie and Yael Friedlander, we have been invited to the magnificent facilities of Patriot Heights Residence Independent Living at 5000 Fawn Meadow at Floyd Curl Drive. The intimate ‘All Faiths’ Residents’ Chapel will be our home for the foreseeable future.
The intimate Chapel houses our appurtenances as described above in a 50 seat worship space that can be expanded to accommodate 200 persons.
The Chapel features a low ceiling for maximum unamplified sound consonance and lovely faceted sand art glass windows depicting non-sectarian themes of nature. The large altar table easily converts to the shulchan for the reading of the Torah. A lectern to its right has an electronically controlled reading desk which may be raised or lowered at the push of a button to accommodate the height and comfort of different speakers and presenters.
Brookdale Patriot Heights Resident’s All Faiths Chapel showing the pulpits, ark and faceted sand art glass windows