The Arty Semite

LGBT Synagogue Finds New Home, Complete With Assyrian Art

By Renee Ghert-Zand

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Every Tisha B’Av, rabbis around the world try to come up with new and creative ways to remind their congregations of the history of the two Holy Temples that once stood in Jerusalem. Students of Jewish history readily recall 586 B.C.E. as the year that the Babylonians destroyed the First Temple, and 70 C.E. as the one in which the Romans destroyed the Second.

Many, however, are a bit foggier on 722 B.C.E., when the Assyrians conquered the northern Kingdom of Israel and sent its inhabitants into exile, eventually to become known to us as the Ten Lost Tribes. Soon Rabbi Sharon Kleinbaum of New York’s Congregation Beit Simchat Torah will need only point to the walls of her synagogue’s new building to jog people’s memories.

The New York Times reported that the LGBT synagogue has ended 40 years of wandering in the Manhattan real estate desert by purchasing two adjacent storefront condominium units at 130 West 30th St. In a stroke of fortune, the 1929 landmark building designed by Cass Gilbert boasts an array of Assyrian mirror-image bas reliefs and sculptures.

Just as the building of the Holy Temple in the southern Kingdom of Judah cost a great deal, so too does this temple require a large amount of Jewish financial investment. CBST acquired the property for $7.1 million, and the redesign and renovation of the interior space will cost an additional $7 million.

Rabbi Kleinbaum can’t wait to be able to officiate at weddings that will take place in the new space, now that same-sex marriage is legal in the State of New York. She even thinks the congregation’s finding this particular building is bashert.

Kleinbaum also sees signs of homosexuality in the Assyrian artwork. After all, those two lions’ heads over the entrance on West 30th Street are both male. And she conjectured for the Times that there may be more than meets the eye in terms of the relationship between the two men who appear in the the chariot motifs.

For Tisha B’Av, the rabbi explained that her congregation is ready to embrace the Assyrian art in its soon-to-be-new home and to learn from the Jewish past. “The point is not that we hate Assyrians,” she told the Times. “We’re told that there was a causeless hatred — sinat chinam — among the Jews. The Assyrians were just the force of history that made it happen. That has a lot to say to us in the modern world: that hatred breeds terrible violence and war.”


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