Oseh Shalom replaces synagogue's iconic dome

On an overcast, cold December morning, a group of congregation members of Oseh Shalom synagogue gathered to watch the first pieces of the temple's sanctuary be removed as part of a replacement of its iconic translucent dome.

The original dome has outlived its useful life and will be replaced by a new dome made in the same configuration and of the same material, said Barry Nove, facility manager at Oseh Shalom. The removal began Tuesday, Dec. 17, after several delays because of wintry weather.

Oseh Shalom, Laurel's only synagogue, has been around since 1966, when it was called the Jewish Congregation of Laurel and held its services out of a bank. In 1991, the Reconstructionist congregation moved to its current building, which cost a total of $3.1 million to build.

“We interviewed a lot of architects, but the thing that got us about Travis Price [the building architect] was the first thing that came out of his mouth was not, ‘How do you want it to look?' but, ‘How do you want it to feel?' ” said Val Kaplan, past president of the synagogue and longtime congregation member.

Kaplan, who was actively involved in the building process, said it is hard to believe it's already time to replace the dome.

“How'd it get to be 22 years later without us looking?” Kaplan said jokingly.

Nove, who did not reveal the cost of the project other than to say it exceeded $100,000, said the new dome will be better looking than the original.

“Because it is fiberglass exposed to the air outside, there has been deterioration and yellow discoloring,” Nove said. “The new dome will have glass over it so it won't change color.”

The new dome, which will be made out of the same frosted, translucent glass-like material called Kalwall, has a useful life of 30 years, although it can be extended to 50 years with good maintenance, Nove said.

The new dome is expected to be completely installed by Thursday, but weather delays may push it back.

‘Building as teacher'

While there is no doubt the dome is striking to the eye, it is more than just an architectural showpiece.

According to Rabbi Doug Heifeitz, the dome reinforces a key mission of the synagogue.

“The dome reminds us to always keep our vision higher, to always aim higher for a vision of society and ourselves,” Heifeitz said.

Inscribed on three rings in the ceiling leading up to the dome are excerpts from passages in the Torah, which Heifeitz said touch on creation, love and redemption.

“It leads us through the progression of each Jewish service,” Heifeitz said.

According to Kaplan, the dome is key to the entire building's concept of “building as teacher.”

“We wanted something that was meaningful,” Kaplan said.

Kaplan said the circular pattern of the dome plays on the classic theme of infinity, and it also represents the yarmulke, or kipah, a garment worn on the head as a sign of respect.

“It's absolutely critical [to the identity of the building],” Kaplan said. “It is the central visible symbol people see when they are driving by.”

Kaplan said a lot of ideas about what to build in the synagogue back in the 1980s were bandied about, but the image of the dome was too powerful to pass up.

“We always came back to the sanctuary and the dome as the focus point,” she said.

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