Created By: The History Center in Tompkins County
Architect: Eli W. Goldstein
In 1925, a congregation consisting of 50 families purchased a city lot from Daniel Rothschild at the corner of Tioga and Mill Street (later renamed Court Street) and began to raise funds to build a Jewish Temple. Daniel Rothschild was an active member of the congregation, organizing and providing space for the religious school which met in a building on East State Street.
The cornerstone was laid in 1928 for the present brick building, designed by Eli W. Goldstein of Buffalo. The Ithaca contracting firm of Ward-Kurz completed the building in 1929, at that time the only synagogue in Ithaca.
The architectural style and proportions of Temple Beth-El suggest a Middle Eastern influence with its red clay-tiled dome on a twelve-sided clerestory, symbolizing the twelve tribes of Israel. The overall massing of the building is a cube shape. The facades are symmetrical, featuring an arrangement of five tall, round-arched stained glass windows. On the south façade, these windows are flanked by a tympanum-topped window and main entry. Above the wooden, copper-clad double doors of the main entrance is a tiled semi-circular ornament featuring a menorah. The tiled ornamentation over the window on the front façade depicts the tablets of the Ten Commandments. The corbelled brickwork of the cornice is carried over onto the classroom wing, which was designed by Levatich, Hoffman and Miller of Ithaca in 1967.
The interior opens to the domed ceiling with light introduced by four barrel-vaulted clerestory windows. The rows of wooden auditorium seating are secured to the quarry tile floor. The oak Bima, or pulpit, is centered on the east wall. The Aron HaKodesh, or ark, behind the pulpit, is symmetrical in its elevation with a pair of recessed pocket doors providing a sacred space for the storing of the Torah and other sacred objects. Above these doors, carved in wood, is the Star of David.
The top of the ark is crested with a pair of carved wooden tablets of the Ten Commandments written in Hebrew and flanked by a menorah. An oak railing balances either side of the arch, creating a choir loft. Symmetry is created in the sanctuary by the balcony on the west wall that faces the Bima.
Temple Beth-El is listed on the State and National Historic Registers of Historic Places and is located within the locally designated DeWitt Park Historic District. The overall effect of the building and its interior is one of functional simplicity consistent with the design philosophy of the early twentieth century.
This point of interest is part of the tour: Religious Buildings in Downtown Ithaca