Dome of the flock


What a difference a dome makes. Oseh Shalom in Laurel has a new dome atop its sanctuary, replacing one that had crowned the Reconstructionist synagogue since 1991.

Made of fiberglass sheets that are usually used for skylights, the dome was badly deteriorating, says Barry Nove, Oseh Shalom’s facilities manager. “The light that was coming in was yellow.”

The original dome was disassembled last month, one 75-pound sheet at a time, and the new dome was installed the same way.

“This is pristine white all the way through,” Nove said of the light that now streams into the sanctuary from above. The sanctuary is three times brighter during the day, thanks to the new dome, he added.

The new dome has a coating of glass on the outside that will extend its life. Nove doesn’t expect Oseh Shalom will need to replace it again for another 30-40 years.

Domes are a common architectural motif in the Middle East. In the United States, the great age of domed synagogues began in the late 19th century and lasted through the 1920s, says synagogue historian Samuel Gruber, author of American Synagogues: A Century of Architecture and Jewish Community.

“Domes are architecturally interesting,” he says. “People like them because they unify the space and you can read in a lot of symbolism, if you want to.”

Modern architecture, with its preference for straight lines over curves, had little use for the dome and by the 1960s and ’70s “the tent became the motif,” Gruber says, adding that a synagogue from the 1990s, like Oseh Shalom, with a dome is unusual.

The Hebrew word for dome is kippah, and like that head covering, it “inspires us to look beyond ourselves,” says Rabbi Doug Heifetz, Oseh Shalom’s rabbi.

“The dome is one of our most central motifs,” he continues. “It calls us to look higher, to aim for the highest possible vision of ourselves and our world.”

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