Our Sanctuary

A visiting rabbi, on seeing the new model for our sanctuary said, “I do not think I have ever seen a more inspiring and eloquent statement, in wood and fabric and stone, of the Torah as the ‘Tree of Life.’ How sensitive and noble this artwork will be how deeply it will move all those who worship with you.” 


The Tree of Life Sculpture: Artist, Michael Semsch

Our Tree of Life ark was designed and carved by Michael Semsch from planks of Maryland tulip poplars, Mr. Semsch worked in consultation with Joan Koslan-Schwartz, who conceived of the Banyan as the inspiration for our “Tree of Life”. What more beautiful metaphor to express our passionate concern for our future? The Banyan is one of the earth’s most ancient trees and can live for over 1000 years. It sends off shoots from its branches which become rooted in the What appears to be a forest of many is a deeply connected So, too, do we yearn for the of our children to become rooted in a love of Judaism, in a faith which will sustain them in this world of mighty change.

Bimah Photo at an Angle Compressed

The Shabbat Root

The great cultural Zionist, Ahad Ha’am once said “more than Israel has kept the Shabbat, the Shabbat has kept Israel.” The Shabbat root created of our “Tree of Life” reminds us of the centrality of Shabbat in Judaism. As it serves as a root for the “Tree of Life,” so must we make Shabbat a foundation of our lives.

The Havdalah Root

With the appearance of three twilight stars, Shabbat concludes. Judaism marks that moment with the “Havdalah” ceremony. Wine, a spice box whose sweet sustains to the next Shabbat, and a woven candle representing the coming together of our diversity into Oneness, are the rituals used by our tradition. Our Havdalah root, the final part of our “Tree of Life,” will house these objects and will provide the focus for this beautiful ritual which helps us dream of a perfect world.

The Ark Stitchery: Master Artist, Joan Koslan-Schwartz

The exquisite stitchery on the ark, both inside and out, was woven by master artist Joan Koslan-Schwartz. Inscribed within are twenty-five verses of Judaic wisdom. Chosen with Rabbi Stone, these verses reflect the history, the deepest vision and the mandate of Temple Emanuel as a synagogue commu­nity. Future generations who celebrate religious life at our Temple, will learn from these verses drawn from the Torah, the Prophets, the Psalms, the Prayer book and Jewish wisdom.

The lighter interior of the ark mirrors the outside, with both giving expression to the ancient wisdom of the ark as golden. So, too, the inner Jew of spirit is inextricably bound to the outer Jew of action, mitzvot.

The Wall Menorah: Artist, Cynthia Barber

The wall menorah is one of the most ancient symbols of the Temple in Jerusalem from a time when Judaism flourished. So too does Judaism once again flourish as we face the threshold of the 21st century.

Our menorah, designed by organic metal artist Cynthia Barber, is unique. Cast in the metal are wild flowers, grasses and plants. They are reminiscent of the original inspiration for the menorah, the moriah plant, which flowered in the wilder­ness of ancient Israel. Our menorah’s natural form reaches upward like Sinai, reminding us that we too, must reach toward God’s presence, both within ourselves and in our world.

The Fused Glass Windows: Artist, Barney Zeitz

The technique of colored fused glass, with its subtle and luminescent colors, was developed by glass artist, Barney Zeitz. The four windows adjacent to the ark reflect an image of Sinai, the site of the revelation of the Torah. The flow of blue under the mount alludes to the earth’s first waters, mentioned in the story of Eden. The window on the left side of the ark is reminiscent of the nature in both Israel and our own Washington metropolitan area. Notice the cedars of Israel and the flowers of spring. The window to the right of the ark evokes memories of the Holocaust. The yellow star worn by Jews during the Holocaust leads to a row of yellow tulips, recalling the courageous and righteous people throughout Europe who saved and rescued Jewish families at great peril to their own lives.

The Eternal Light: Artist, Cynthia Barber

The Ner Tamid was designed by metal artist Cynthia Barber. It is reminiscent of the Ner Tamid in the ancient Jerusalem Tabernacle wherein we were commanded to keep a light forever burning. The design of our Ner Tamid looks like a bird’s nest. A mystical tradition found in the Zohar tells of a dove that makes its nest outside the palace of the Messiah. This palace is known as the “bird’s nest.” According to mystical folklore, the messianic age will come when we capture that golden dove. The founder of Hasidism, the Baal Shem Tov, was said to have used a “ladder of prayer” in reaching for this image of spiritual ideals.

Our Ner Tamid is solar powered, in keeping with our commitment to preserving our Earth’s resources. Solorex, a solar power company of Frederick, Maryland, designed and donated the solar unit for the Eternal Light.

The Wall of Remembrance

The stone Wall of Remembrance is made of indigenous Maryland stone from a local quarry. This wall recalls the Western Wall of the ancient Temple in Jerusalem. Continuing contributions in the names of loved ones who are honored or remembered by this wall will be entered in a special Scroll of Remembrance.

Tree of Life


Ancient Jewish wisdom from the Torah, the great Prophets, the Mishna and the prayerbook are finely stitched into our Ark doors and interior. These twenty-five verses express some of our most deeply held values as Jews, and in weaving them into our sanctuary, we carry forward the sacred task of passing that wisdom from generation to generation.

On the left side:

1. “For my House shall be a House of Prayer for all people.” Isaiah 56:7

2. “Hate evil and love what is good.” Amos5:15

3. “Let justice well up as waters and righteousness as a mighty stream.” Amos 5:24

4. “Seek Me and Live.” Amos 5:4

5. “I will make you a light to the nations, that my hope may be unto the ends of the earth.” Isaiah 49:6

6. “How greatly are we blessed. How good is our portion.” Siddur

7. “I lift up my eyes to the mountains. What is the source of help? My help comes from God, maker of heaven and earth.”  Psalm 121:142

8. “Not by might, nor by power, but by My Spirit alone shall all live in peace.” Zachariah 4:6

9. “Let us go up to the mountain of the Lord; for out of Zion shall go forth the Torah, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.” Isaiah 2:3

10. “Justice, justice shall you pursue that you may live and inherit the land, which the Lord, your God, has given you.” Deuteronomy 16:20-21

11. “Let the rivers clap their hands, let the mountains sing together with joy.” Psalm 98:8

12. “You shall indeed go out in Joy and be led forth in peace.” Isaiah 55:12

13. “Observe the Sabbath day and keep it holy.” Deuteronomy 5:12

On the right side:

1. “And God created Humankind in his image.” Genesis 1 :27

2. “The ways of Torah are ways of pleasantness, and all of its paths are peace.” Proverbs 3:17

3. “It is a Tree of Life to all who hold fast to it.” Proverbs 3 :18

4. “I shall not die, but live.” Psalm 118:17

5. “Open the gates of righteousness; now I will enter into them, I will give thanks to the Eternal” Psalm 118:19

6. “Sing a new song to God.” Psalm 98:1

7. “You shall love your neighbor as yourself, I am the Lord.” Leviticus 19:18

8. “They shall sit everyone under his vine and under his fig tree, and none shall make him afraid.” Micah 4:4

9. “The wolf shall dwell with the lamb.” Isaiah 11 :66

10. “Whoever saves a single human life, it is as if he or she had saved the entire world.” Mishna Sanhedrin 4:5

11. “I believe with complete faith.” Maimonides

12. “All living things will praise you.” Psalm 150:6

The Artists

Temple Emanuel was fortunate to commission four internationally known and respected artists for the Sanctuary Enhancement Project. These artists closely coordinated their efforts to create the integrated “Tree of Life” concept.

Our lead artist, Joan Koslan-Schwartz, is a dynamic fabric artist working in contemporary needlework. A native New Yorker, she studied design and architecture at Pratt Institute and has a degree in Fine Arts Education from Ohio State University. After living in California for some years, she moved to the Washington area where she currently resides. Joan has developed an international reputation, which has been recognized through many prizes and honors. She has executed fabric design and creation for synagogues across the country. Ms. Koslan-Schwartz has developed the designs and fabric panels for the interior and exterior doors of our ark, as well as the ark’s interior lining. She has also designed and fabricated Torah mantles and a wedding canopy for our bima, as well as overseeing the work of the other artists in our project.

Michael Semsch, a woodworking artist from Eagle Nest, New Mexico, designed and created the “Tree of Life” sculpture for our bima. He has a national reputation for outstanding wood sculpture, both representational and nonrepresentational. Mr. Semsch attended several educational institutions including the Corcoran Gallery of Art and the Maryland Institute, College of Art. Locally, he collaborated with Joan Koslan-Schwartz on the synagogue ark at Rodef Shalom Temple in Northern Virginia.

Barney Zeitz, who lives in Martha’s Vineyard, Massa­chusetts, has been designing, constructing, and installing fused and stained glass windows, panels and folding screens for twenty years. He has created six fused glass windows for Temple Emanuel. He is the originator of the technique of physically fusing the glass pieces, eliminating the need for lead inserts. Mr. Zeitz studied at the University of Massachu­setts and the Art Studies League and has worked on many public commissions, including religious spaces, libraries, hospitals and universities. He is self-taught in stained glass. He has created artist glass for Pittsburgh’s Rodef Shalom Temple, historic buildings, and the Rhode Island Holocaust Museum. He feels a responsibility to produce work appropriate to each situation.

Cynthia Barber is a metal sculptor who lived in the Washington area for years, but now resides in Corrales, New Mexico. A graduate of Barnard College, her MFA is from Brandeis University. Ms. Barber is noted for her enameled steel sculptures, and her works have been commissioned by institutions on both coasts. She has designed work for several Washington area synagogues. For our bima, Ms. Barber has created a wall menorah, a new eternal light, and is commis­sioned to create additional ritual objects including a Shabbat candle and wine set, rimonim, and other ritual objects. Additionally, she has been asked to provide a sculpture of recognition for the Temple lobby, which will include the names of major donors of the Sanctuary Enhancement Project.

We hope you will return often to our Temple community. The doors and sanctuary of our synagogue will always be open to you and your family.