Designers and fabricatior of stained glass for synagogues
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Temple Chai
LongGrove, Illinois
Project Journal
September 18, 2006
David and Michelle Plachte-Zuieback Art Glass is engaged in the fabrication of stained glass windows and stained glass Aron Hakodesh doors for the remodeled sanctuary at Temple Chai.


Temple Chai Aron Hakodesh

Temple Chai Sanctuary

Long Grove synagogue completes renovations in time for new year
By Ruth Gesmer Silverman

Daily Herald Correspondent
Posted Friday, September 22, 2006

When the families of Temple Chai gather tonight for the first High Holy Days service in their renovated sanctuary, all eyes will be drawn to one wall.
Above the new, cherry wood ark that holds the hand-written Torah scrolls, panels of vivid stained glass radiate the sunlight. Brilliant reds and yellows form the burning bush, which emanates from the center of the ark.
Lights beneath the outside soffit create a similar effect at night.
It has taken seven years and more than $2 million for the Long Grove synagogue to renovate the sanctuary. Two days before Rosh Hashana, the Jewish New Year, Senior Rabbi Stephen Hart was a little awestruck as he watched workers complete the ark’s installation.
The new chairs will be in place for the first High Holy Days services tonight, the 29th of Elul in the Jewish calendar, and continuing Saturday, the first day of Tishri.
“The space in which we sit should be one that motivates and inspires us, and enables us to feel a deeper connection to this time of year,” Hart said.
The renovation is the first major work done to the building since it first opened in 1979.
To do it, the temple turned to member Mike Firsel to run the renovation committee. Firsel grew up in Reform congregations in South Shore and Oak Park before becoming president of Beth Tikvah, in Hoffman Estates at 30.
A real estate developer, Firsel and the committee knew what they and others in the congregation sought.
“We wanted ideas that were clean, crisp and timeless; we wanted warmth and comfort and spirituality,” he said.
The committee tapped Nevin Hedlund, an architectural firm with extensive experience in sanctuary design, including Congregation Beth Am in Buffalo Grove.
For the bimah, including the glass and the ark, the temple turned to the same California team that did Beth Am, David and Michelle Plachte-Zuibback.
It was their idea that the stained glass would contain the words that are central to Jewish prayer and are recited and sung more than once in every Jewish service.
Reading right to left, the Hebrew reads, “Sh’ma Yisrael, Adonai Eloheinu, Adonai Echod! (Hear, O Israel, Adonai (Almighty) is our God, Adonai is One.”
Other scattered letters on both sides of the central window panels represent the unformed world, organized only when those letters become words.
The doors on the cherry wood ark, lighted from inside, depict the initial words of the Ten Commandments, as given to Moses at Sinai. Inside the ark, dressed in white covers for the High Holy Days, the Torah scrolls are upright against curved back rests.
When the door panels are back-lit, red pomegranates are visible. They are meant to recall the teachings of the ancient rabbis who said there are 613 seeds in each fruit, the same number of mitzvot (good deeds) Torah commands all Jews to observe.
The sanctuary has been in the works for seven years, but it was only in the last few weeks it all came together.
In one day, the entire interior was gutted. During the next few weeks, contractors built and painted new walls in the expanded space, installed new lighting, windows and a new sound system, laid new carpeting and readied the bimah, the raised area at the front of the room.
The process was not as smooth as it sounds, however.
Earlier this week, the wooden crates arrived holding the long-awaited hand-cast, leaded-glass windows. When opened, however, there were broken panes in each of the panels.
After some quick phone calls and e-mails between Firsel, President Michael Weiss, Executive Director Larry Glickman and the designers, it was determined David would have to fly in from San Francisco to make repairs.
He packed no clothes or toiletries; he selected and carefully packed the right pieces of glass, along with some lead, solder, a soldering gun and a few tools into a small suitcase.
“I was up at 3 a.m. Monday to get to the airport, arrived at O’Hare, got to the temple and went to work,” he said, while putting the finishing touches on newly soldered and leaded panes. By 4 p.m. Monday he was ready to leave for his return flight to San Francisco.
Firsel is effusive.
“David and Michelle have proven to be two of the most gifted and creative artistic talents around,” he said. “The expressive and tasteful symbolism and messages they display in their work is awe-inspiring and genuine. Their work will add a considerable degree of solemnity and spirituality to our sanctuary and our prayers.”
Plachte-Zuibback, meanwhile, attributes the change in speed to one thing.
“It’s Mike Firsel,” he said. “He made it all happen.”
As more than 1,000 area families come to Temple Chai tonight to welcome the new year 5767, they will no doubt appreciate the effort.
And long after the final note of the shofar sounds the end of the High Holy Days, on the afternoon of Yom Kippur, Oct. 2, its designers hope the sacred art will still resonate with its own call to worship.

Above, the central two panels with the text of the "Shema."
Partial installation of the stained glass at Temple Chai, as of 4:00 PM, September 18, 2006

Copyright 2006 Plachte-Zuieback Art Glass