Pilgrimage of Sacred Spaces – Detroit – Congregation Shaarey Zedek

Congregation Shaarey Zedek

Shaarey Zedek is the second oldest Jewish synagogue in the Detroit area dating back to the withdrawal of many of the more traditional Jews from the Temple Beth El in 1861 for the purpose of forming a more conservative worshiping community. In 1913 Shaarey Zedek became a founding movement of the Conservative United Synagogues of America. Over its first century of existence the congregation moved five times from the heart of the city further into the suburbs until the present building was erected in Southfield in 1962.

Prior to arriving at Shaarey Zedek we had spent a day and a half visiting historic churches of a variety of architectural styles, but until we arrived at the synagogue we had not seen a modern architectural expression of faith. Shaarey Zedek was the right place to go. Designed by Percival Goodman, often called the most prolific architect in Jewish history, Shaarey Zedek, is a breathtaking shrine. The San Francisco Examiner ranked it as one of the top ten most breathtaking places of worship in North America and Philip Nobel, of the New York Times described it as a “roadside attraction that parlays a skyscraping Ark and an erupting eternal flame into a concrete Sinai on the shoulder of Interstate 696.”

As one enters the sanctuary their eyes are drawn to the tone towers rising from the Ark and representing the stone tablets of Sinai. They are surround by two stained glass windows that rise from the floor on an angle and meet high above the Ark and the tablets. The lower portions of the mirror image windows is in blues which might well represent the divided waters of the Red Sea in the Exodus account, but the red glass at the pinnacle clearly depicts the burning bush through which Moses encountered God and heard his calling. It is stunning and one can only imagine on high holy days with upwards of four or five thousand people how mesmerizing those windows must be.

Rabbi Yonatan Dahlen welcomed us warmly and opened the Ark and brought a scroll to the Bimah around which we gathered as he read to the group. He was kind and patient with many questions and when he might well have dismissed us he turned to me and said, “Did you say you wanted to read a psalm.” Yes I replied it is in our pilgrimage guide and is Psalm 126.” “Psalm 126?” replied the Rabbi. “Yes, is that okay?” I asked. “Okay? It is my favourite Psalm!”

After we read it I asked why it was his favourite Psalm and he gave us an insightful reflection on verse one, “When the Lord restored the fortunes of Zion, we were like those who dream.” Imagine, out of 150 Psalms I chose his favourite for our visit that day and yet I had never met him or ever spoken to him in my life! There was obviously another at work in choosing that Psalm. We are but the instruments. I went from that place feeling younger and more alive – like a dreamer.

One of our pilgrims, Rob Mee, a gifted musician and photographer has posted some absolutely remarkable photos of this sacred space along with the others we visited and can be viewed on his website at: https://focusonmee.com/detroit-michigan/

Grace and Peace,