Magen David Sephardic Congregation, Beit Eliyahu Synagogue
Magen David Sephardic Congregation, Beit Eliyahu Synagogue has been the premier Sephardic Congregation in the Washington, DC, area since it was founded in 1966. It is quite diverse: Jews from Morocco, from Egypt, from Syria, from Iraq, from Iran, from India, and even a few Ashkenazi (European) Jews. Congregants have also included Jews from Ethiopia at times. Every sort of Jew can feel comfortable at this veritable rainbow Synagogue.
The glass doors allow in a lot of light. Over the doors is a brass colored image of a Sephardic style Torah tik, which is a round case that protects the Torah scroll, both when it is read and also when it is stored. The shape of the windows reflects the Moslem influence on Sephardic Jews.
After you walk in the front door of the Synagogue and straight through the lobby, you then enter the sanctuary (seen here). Beautifying a mitzvah is an important element of Judaism, and is quite evident in the sanctuary, where so many prayer-oriented mitzvot occur. The structure in the middle, the Tevah, is for prayer leading and holy readings. At the far end you can see the raised Bima and the Aron Kodesh (Holy Ark). The sanctuary enjoys several beautiful Middle Eastern carpets typical of those featured in the lives of Jews from Moslem countries, where many Sephardic Jews formerly lived.
The raised Bima is a spiritual center of the sanctuary, raised like the altar in the Temple that formerly stood in Jerusalem. On the Bima is the Aron Kodesh (Holy Ark), the home of the Torah scrolls and the Haftarah scroll. Adorning the walls on either side are brass menorot (candelabras), harkening back to the menorah in the Temple in Jerusalem. On one side of the Bima is an American flag, showing Jew’s loyalty to America, and on the other side an Israeli flag, showing Jew’s love of Israel. Below is a closeup image of the Aron Kodesh.
This closeup of the Aron Kodesh (Holy Ark) shows many of its details more clearly. The doors of the Ark, with a curtain behind them, harken back to the Holy of Holies in the temple that formerly stood in Jerusalem, as does also the Ner Tamid (Eternal or "Always" Light) that hangs in front of the Holy Ark, and that in Temple times provided illumination inside of the Temple. The words immediately above the Holy Ark say "Know Before Whom You Stand," taken from a saying of the great sage Akiva. Above these words are the Ten Commandments held up by two Lions of Judah. Note that the term “Jew” is derived from the name of the tribe "Judah," but no Jews today know their particular tribe except for the Cohenim and Levites, so Jews today just identify as part of the wide community of Jews. The stars behind the Ten Commandments may refer to the eleven stars in a dream of Joseph, which refer to his eleven brothers. Around the stars are a large number of the symbol "Magen David," which of course refers to the name of this Synagogue, but is also an important symbol for Jews everywhere.
This structure is called the Tevah, and is supposed to suggest the ark that saved Noah and all life on earth, and also the small ark that saved Moses. The purpose of the Tevah is to be a center for the leading of prayers and for holy readings (Torah and Haftarah).
Jewish boys are required to be circumcised on the eighth day after birth, known as the (Brit Mila). This Synagogue has an elaborate and beautiful Kisei Eliyahu Hanavi (Chair of Elijah the Prophet), which is the site of this important and identifying mitzvah.
Orthodox men and women are not permitted to pray together, in order to ensure that they are not distracted. This is one of the two sections where the women sit. When the Torah is carried around the Synagogue, it makes a stop here for the women.