WELCOME TO EMANU EL
Congregation Emanu EI was founded in 1944 by 190 families and today has a membership of approximately 2000 families. We are one of 900 Reform congregations affiliated with the Union for Reform Judaism, the organizing body of Reform synagogues in America. Our name is taken from the Bible and means God is with us.
The synagogue is our spiritual home. Our building was designed in the style of Frank Lloyd Wright by congregant Lenard Gabert and MacKie & Kamrath Architects. It stood out as one of the most innovative and creative buildings in the country in 1949 when it was dedicated. As one approaches the building, the dramatic angular lines of the roof create the impression of outstretched arms, welcoming and embracing all who enter. Inside the use of wood and earth tones continues the message of warmth. The soaring vertical lines in the sanctuary suggest the majesty of God and the converging horizontal lines imbue a sense of the closeness of God and community.
As is customary, our synagogue is built with an Ark at the east end, so that the congregation faces toward Jerusalem in prayer. In the sanctuary Ark you will see several Torah scrolls. A synagogue must have at least one; we have five in our sanctuary, all alike but of different sizes. During worship services a Torah scroll is taken from the Ark and an appointed passage is read from it.
A Torah scroll is made of parchment sheets from tanned animal skins, stitched together, onto which a scribe hand letters the Hebrew text of the first five books of the Bible: Genesis, Exodus, Levitcus, Numbers and Deuteronomy. The parchment is then attached to two rollers called Trees of Life. On top of the Trees of Life we place crowns as decoration. Hanging from the scroll is a yad (pointer) used when reading from the Torah. Because the scroll is sacred and because touching the parchment would, over a period of years, smudge the print, we avoid handling the parchment as much as possible. The ornamental breast plate is commemorative of the High Priest's breast plate which he wore as an insignia of his office in the ancient Temple in Jerusalem.
Every Torah has its own story. All of the Torah Scrolls in our Ark are dressed in covers designed in 1994 by artist Deborah Winograd and needlepointed by congregants in honor of the 50th anniversary of our congregation. The design centers on the number 50 as cited in the Torah, and each mantle has at least one color from the tapestry in the Ark. The gold bands on each symbolize the divine or celestial light described in Jewish mystical literature.
The first Torah given to our congregation (the tallest one in our Ark) is over 175 years old and is of Czechoslovakian origin. It was written on untreated calfskin. Its yellow mantle reads "The fiftieth year shall be a jubilee for you" – Leviticus 25:11. Its crown, designed by artisan William B. Meyers, is silver bands individually placed in the shape of a crown. The band around the crown, at its base and its top, forms the Hebrew words Adonaihu ha-Elohim – The Eternal One is Our God. The breastplate is a modern cut-out oval of the burning bush in silver over enamel designed by Chava.
The Torah scroll dressed in red is of Polish origin and written on goat skin which has been treated on the outside. It is estimated to be over 125 years old. On its breastplate is a replica of an Ark which is adorned by columns and a crown, and opens with a miniature Torah inside. Its red mantle reads "You shall hallow the fiftieth year" - Leviticus 25: 10.
The Torah dressed in blue is also of Polish origin and written on goat skin which has been treated on the outside. Rescued from an attic in Amsterdam, it is estimated to be 125 years old. Its breastplate is designed with a replica of an Ark. The blue mantle reads "Proclaim liberty through all the land to all its inhabitants" – Leviticus 25:10.
The Torah dressed in purple is of Russian origin, written on calf skin, and is about 125 years old. Its breastplate, designed by artist Ludwig Woelpert, features the seven fruits of Israel, and its Torah Crown features symbols of the 12 Tribes. The mantle reads "You shall sound the shofar through all your land" – Leviticus 25:9.
The Torah dressed in green was commissioned by our congregation in honor of our 50th anniversary. It is the only scroll we have that was written in this country. Its breastplate features a modern version of the Ten Commandments. The crowns are adorned with the Hebrew words for compassion, righteousness, peace, truth, faith and justice. Its green mantle reads "5703-5753 (the Hebrew years of our founding and fiftieth anniversary) – Emanu El – Houston, Texas."
The tapestry on the back wall of the Ark was designed by A. Raymond Katz, an internationally known Jewish artist. The background depicts the Tree of Life from Proverbs 3:18, It is a tree of life to them who take hold of it… Resting on the Torah is an open Bible containing the Hebrew word emet (truth), and resting on these are two tablets of the Ten Commandments.
The NerTamid (Eternal Light) hangs over the Ark and reminds us of the eternal presence of God. Designed by local artist Bob Fowler and inspired by the metal on the candelabra, the Ark and choir loft, the Eternal Light is constructed of brass and bronze plates, layered three-dimensionally around a Star of David. The concealed light source reflects indirectly on the metal layers and denotes that God is always present even if we’re not aware of it.
On each side of the Ark there is a seven-branched candelabra, the modern version of the seven-branched oil lamps used for illumination in the ancient Temple in Jerusalem. In using them, we are reminded of the continuity of Jewish worship through the ages.
There is a mezzuzah on every entry door at Emanu EI. On each one you will see one of the Hebrew names for God, Shaddai (God Almighty). Inside each case is a parchment on which are hand lettered two Hebrew paragraphs from scriptures:Deuteronomy 6:4-9, “Hear 0 Israel the Lord our God the Lord is One. You shall love the Lord your God ..and you shall write them upon the doorposts (mezzuzah) of your house … “ and Deuteronomy 11: 13-21, “And it will come to pass, if you hearken diligently to My commandments … ”
On both sides of the Sanctuary there are memorial tablets on which are recorded the names of departed loved ones. On the Shabbat following the anniversary of the death, a light is lit beside each name of the deceased which is read aloud before the memorial Kaddish prayer. The Kaddish is not a prayer for the dead but a doxology in praise of God, author of life and death.
The Worship Service
Worship services are held weekly on Shabbat (Sabbath), Friday evenings at 6:00 p.m. and Saturday mornings at 10:30 a.m. and on Holy Days and Festivals. There is also a daily service at 6:00 pm, Monday through Thursday. MishkanT’filah is our Shabbat and Festival Prayer Book. Gates of Repentance is the prayer book we use on the High Holy Days.
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