Chicago Loop Synagogue Offers Harried Workers A Haven For Quiet Reflection

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Tucked in a compact space at 16 South Clark Street, you’ll find a modern, yet ornate, structure with an angular roof and a wild-looking sculpture bearing the biblical phrase from Numbers: THE LORD BLESS THEE AND KEEP THEE.

Welcome to the Chicago Loop Synagogue, the only Jewish house of worship in the Loop. Today—conveniently the 2nd day of Hannukah—we take a look at this unique building featured during the Chicago Architecture Foundation’s Open House Chicago 2015.

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The Chicago Loop Synagogue was founded in 1929 to offer businesspeople a convenient spot for reflection and religious sustenance away from their busy workplace. Most members belong to other houses of worship closer to their homes, too.

Since its origin, the Chicago Loop Synagogue has operated out of various locations in the Loop. The synagogue was once housed in a neighboring building on the second floor, with a restaurant on the ground level. After a fire, the synagogue’s leadership vowed they’d never again use a space above a commercial kitchen.

Architecturally, the Chicago Loop Synagogue stands out for a number of reasons. A striking work of stained glass designed by Abraham Rattner takes up almost the entire Eastern façade. Rattner’s lithographs can also be seen in the entry to the social hall. And, the blessing above the entrance is known as the Hands of Peace, created by Henri Azaz.

Ornamental crowns cap the torahs.

Ornamental crowns cap the torahs.

Inside the Chicago Loop Synagogue, architects Loebl, Schlossman & Bennett created an open, cathedral-like space within a small plot of land. Within the 450-seat sanctuary, the stones that make up the south wall are placed at angles to represent the western wall of the original temple in Jerusalem.

At the alter, there’s a raised platform with a reading desk, known as the bimah. This is where the rabbi reads from the torah during services. Each week, the torah reading changes, following the path of history in the five books of the Old Testament of the Bible.

Chicago Loop Synagogue member Jerry Schur gives the torah turntable a spin during Open House Chicago.

Chicago Loop Synagogue member Jerry Schur gives the torah turntable a spin during Open House Chicago.

The ark behind the bimah at the Chicago Loop Synagogue holds six torahs. Each one is open to a different section, pre-rolled for use on various holidays so re-rolling isn’t required, which could cause wear and tear on the delicate parchment.

The ark itself boasts a feat of engineering. The torahs all sit upon a turntable, so with a quick turn, the rabbi can easily switch from the regular torah to a specific holiday torah. This week, the Hannukah Torah will be in use for eight days, to celebrate the Festival of Light.

Bill Motchan

Author: Bill Motchan

Bill Motchan is a writer and photographer, and a former resident of the West Loop. He can be reached at bill@ChicagoArchitecture.org.

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