Faith Rooted in Louisville and Growing Beyond
Keneseth Israel’s roots go back to 1882 and downtown Louisville. Founded in Orthodoxy, we have evolved into a fully egalitarian Conservative shul affiliated with the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism. That evolution has allowed us to keep Judaism’s traditions intact while recognizing the needs of our growing membership as we look toward the 59th Jewish Century. Keneseth Israel Congregation, with roots grown over 130 years in the service to Louisville’s Jewish community, continues to be a vibrant synagogue dedicated to our mission of “providing a warm and spiritually nurturing environment in order to fulfill our religious, educational, and social needs. We strive to create a community that is committed to living the teachings and principles of Judaism within a traditional Conservative framework that is inclusive of all members.”
The One With the Windows
Keneseth Israel is often known as “the one with the windows.” The faceted glass windows created by artist Bill Fischer have bathed our sanctuary in color, light, and symbolism since its construction in 1971. In 2012, Mr. Fischer gave Keneseth Israel the gift of the twelve windows concept paintings, endowing KI with an uniquely comprehensive 24-piece art collection. The windows recently underwent a multi-year restoration process – all twelve windows of the windows were generously sponsored for restoration. The paintings have been conserved thanks to a Louisville Jewish Community Excellence Grant from the Jewish Heritage Fund for Excellence.
The holiest and most important Jewish holiday is Shabbat, the Sabbath. The color blue of this window’s glass was chosen to mimic the shade of blue in the sky when the Shabbat candles are to be lighted. The Shabbat candles and the challah are prominent in this window.
The shofar is most closely associated with Rosh Hashanah, the New Year, and the three shofarot in this window represent the three different sets of shofarblasts used during the services. The setting sun connotes the evening start to this and all Jewish holidays.
Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, is a solemn, awe-inspiring day. The eternal flame dominates this window. The Goat of Azazel, the story of which is read each Yom Kippur and which led to the English word “scapegoat,” is also depicted here.
Sukkot, the fall harvest festival, is celebrated every year with the building of temporary shelters as of old, covered with foliage and through which you may see the sky. Fruits often adorn the walls and roofs of the hut. Fischer has made the entire window a sukkah, within which one sees the lulav and etrog.
Simchat Torah, the last of the holidays in the month of Tishrei, marks when the cyclical reading of the Torah ends and begins once again. The Torahs, in all their finery, are danced around the synagogue on this joyous holiday. The letters on the Torah cover in the window come from the beginning of the words Keneseth Israel.
The ubiquitous nine-branched menorah, or hanukiah, used to celebrate this Festival of Lights fills the window. The twisted base of abstract muscular people is a reminder of the struggle by the Maccabees against Antiochus that preceded the miracle that is celebrated each Hanukkah.
Purim, the commemoration of Esther’s defense of her people in the time of the Persian Empire, is a lively celebration. A hamantaschen — the traditional cookie named after the story’s villain, Haman — anchors the base of the window. The scroll of the Book of Esther appears above it, topped with Queen Esther’s and King Ahashverosh’s crowns.
A holiday rich with symbols, the Pesach Window may be one of the most easily understood by people of all ages. The matza, seder plate, the Passover lamb, and the four glasses of wine, cleverly depicted in a nesting fashion, tell the story of Pesach clearly. Look behind the seder plate and you’ll see the outline of the modern State of Israel.
Tu B’Shevat, the New Year of the Trees, is represented with a stylized palm tree that is also reminiscent of a spade and shovel, tools used to plant the trees that Jews around the world sponsor in Israel. Fischer has said the white bird is “searching for peace,” but the red bird, nearly shaped like a swastika, implores the Jewish people “never to forget”.
Lag B’Omer observes the end of a plague affecting Rabbi Akiva’s students. In modern Israel it celebrates the Bar Kochba revolt against the Roman empire. The bows and arrows come both from the revolt and from the practice of Jewish scholars in Roman times, sneaking into the forest to study with their scrolls camouflaged within archery equipment.
Shavuot, another harvest festival, also observes the giving of the Ten Commandments to Moses and the People Israel at Mount Sinai. The two tables fill nearly the entire window, with spring grass surrounding and a flower adorning them, recalling the foliage that often is found around the synagogue during this festival.
Tradition holds that both the 1st and 2nd Temples were destroyed on the 9th of Av, Tisha B’Av. Fischer states, “I used the stone construction of the Western Wall in old Jerusalem, plus the star of David that is found carved in the stones at Capernaum, where Jesus preached. The candelabrum uses the same design as the one Titus carried away from Jerusalem.”