Oct 30

Temple Sinai – Rochester, NY

Temple Sinai sign

Temple Sinai sign

For as long as we have been doing this, Chris and I have always wanted to go see Temple Sinai due to its unique architecture and its mysteriousness being tucked away back in the woods off of Penfield Road.  We have reached out to the powers that be at Temple Sinai before and have been informed that while they do not offer tours, we are more than welcome to attend a Shabbat service on a Friday evening.  Chris and I have gone back and forth on this idea as one we will “eventually do when we run out of other places to see.”  Plus, Chris did go to Temple Sinai on a reconnaissance mission when the Temple was hosting a public book sale and returned with the message of “Dude, it’s a very cool sanctuary that we will have to check out some day.”  So we continued to sit on it…until now.

I was sitting at my desk working really hard one day (I work at the College at Brockport), when I learned via my work email that a woman by the name of Rochelle Dreeben was going to be visiting the campus to share about her experience as a survivor of the Warsaw Ghetto during the Nazi Occupation of Poland.  As I read more of this brief advertisement, it also said that Ms. Dreeben would be giving the same presentation at Temple Sinai two days later.  BOOM!  That was our ticket in and Chris agreed.

Temple Sinai

Temple Sinai

Temple Sinai
(yes, we know the tree is in the way, but it still looks cool)












On October 3, 2013, Chris and I met each other early in the parking lot of Temple Sinai in order to explore a little bit before the presentation.  The outside of Temple Sinai is absolutely beautiful, incredibly picturesque and seems to be intentionally placed into the woods in such a way as to cause little disruption to the nature growing up around it.  There are two entrances to the building, one that goes into the children’s school which makes up a large area of the building and the second entrance which leads into the main sanctuary area.  Kind of in-between these entrances is really what makes Temple Sinai so stunning, which is the sanctuary itself that you can see directly into from the outside, since an entire wall is completely made of glass.  The other two side walls seem to be made of a stucco-like material that really does a good job of blending into the nature that surrounds it.  Directly in front of the humongous glass wall are two even bigger pillars that stand taller than the actual building itself, that have leaves and ivy growing all the way up them.  It becomes quite evident as you are looking from the outside that the whole scene is meant to be viewed from the inside, so that’s where we went next.

Inner Sanctuary

Inner Sanctuary

As you walk in to the main sanctuary at Temple Sinai, you quickly feel as though you are outside.  Not only is the back wall behind the altar completely made entirely out of glass, so is the entire ceiling; plus the ivy is also growing inside along the bottom of the stucco walls.  It is really quite spectacular to look at and the two giant pillars outside can be seen directly through the glass and give a rather monolithic effect.  I picked up a pamphlet I found nearby and here’s what it says:

“Our sanctuary’s unique construction is one of thoughtful design by renowned architect James Johnson.  The sloping walls suggest a sheltering tent, which reminds us of the nomadic theme found throughout Jewish history.  For some, the ten sections of the wall symbolize the ten lost tribes that once made up the northern kingdom of Israel.  Beyond the bima (altar) and behind the glass, we look out on nature’s changing colors and two tall tablets that may represent the Ten Commandments.  Overhead, the glass ceiling inspires us to look forward and recall that God once promised Abraham that his descendants would be “as numerous as the stars in the sky.” On top of the Holy Ark, (the wooden cabinet on the bima), is the seven-branched menorah; a symbol of light and the people of Israel, The ner tamid (eternal light) hangs near the Holy Ark.  This light burns continuously as a symbol of the eternal presence of God.”

The pamphlet also mentions that the Holy Ark contains an original Torah that had been confiscated by the Nazis during the Holocaust and later released by the Czech government.  Temple Sinai came into possession of this very special Torah in 1980.  The Holy Ark itself, the Rabbis lectern and the Rabbis chairs were all hand made by artist Wendell Castle.

The seven-branched menorah atop the Holy Ark

The seven-branched menorah atop the Holy Ark
(The ner tamid, or eternal flame can be seen above right)

Temple Sinai was established in 1959 and is a Reformed Judaism congregation.  Today the Temple encompasses a community of approximately 650 families.  As Chris and I walked around the Temple, we also felt very welcomed and even had a nice conversation with a man watering the flowers outside.  We eventually  joined an audience of about 20-30 people to listen to Rochelle Dreeben share her experience of what it was like to live as a Jewish child in Nazi Occupied Poland as the Nazis established the Warsaw Ghetto and implemented the means towards the Final Solution.  Rochelle shared that she was a 5-year-old child when the Ghetto came to be and was 8-years-old as the Russians pushed back the Nazis out of Poland, only to take it over themselves.  Once out of the Warsaw Ghetto, Rochelle never saw her father again since he remained behind and she was also separated from her mother, as she was placed in a children’s home for Christian children where she now had to deny her Jewish ancestry.  By a stroke of luck and a lot of determination, Rochelle was reunited with her mother, and they eventually made their way to America.

This is definitely a summary of what Ms. Dreeben shared, but I can assure you, hearing it from her is certainly very sad and very moving.  Chris and I hung around for a few minutes afterwards for the reception and ended up talking to some folks like we usually do.  Hearing such a story certainly can make you grateful for what you have.  I know I speak for Chris when I say how grateful we both are for our families, for having roofs over our heads and for being able to explore new places and meet new people the way we have been for nearly the last two years.


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  1. Ron

    I am glad that you got to visit our Temple and thanks for your article. I would be glad to give you a tour of the building.

    1. Luke

      Hi Ron,
      Thank you for visiting our blog. We are very pleased to have had the opportunity to visit Temple Sinai and will certainly consider taking you up on your offer for a tour in the future.

  2. Rabbi Alan Katz

    I read your blog concerning our Temple. It is a home cherished by all of our members and is open and welcoming to all who wish to visit or join us for prayer services or other activities. I am so glad you were able to visit and present your moving description.

    1. Luke

      Rabbi Katz,
      Chris and I are now a testament to exactly what you are sharing and we definitely felt welcome coming into Temple Sinai. You truly have a beautiful facility and it most certainly one of the hidden gems in the Rochester area! Thank you for reading our blog and for your support.

  3. Temple Sinai Facebook Admin

    Thank you so much for the kind words about our Sanctuary and our space. We have shared them with our own Facebook community… and hope that you will come by again and visit!

    1. Luke

      Thank you for re-posting our blog to your own Facebook community, we definitely appreciate it. Please feel free to ‘like’ our blog and receive updates when we post new stuff! Plus, we have our own Facebook page which can be found at: http://www.facebook.com/ExploringTheBurnedOverDistrict

  4. Pat Sweetland (your Aunt)

    Wow! I, who loves nature, would love to worship in a place like this! But, I am Catholic! Still a very interesting place. Love what you two do and always enjoy reading about these special places.

    1. Luke

      Thanks for your support Aunt Pat!


    It was a pleasure serving as the first person to greet you at our Temple, as a member of the Gardening Beautification Committee, who you referenced as “the man watering the flowers” at the entrance to Temple Sinai! :-)

    Everything you describe about the Temple’s physical architecture is mirrored in the attitudinal architecture of the membership: an open, illuminated, welcoming & inviting community of connected people.

    Your Aunt Pat commented that she would love to worship in such a space, but is Catholic.

    No worries!

    I am sure I speak for both of our Rabbis in saying that she is 100% welcome at Temple Sinai to visit, attend, observe & share in a worship experience with us which I’m also sure she will find comfortably-filled with warmth & love, along with our genuine respect & appreciation of her visit, with no pressures to do anything except simply BE her authentic self.

    If Pat would like to come visit, have her contact us & we would be happy to meet her at the entrance, sit with her together, & help her feel at home. Any Friday evening for an Erev Shabbat service would be great; they are held at either 6 or 8. I can be reached on my cell at 585.734.3384

    Services are in both Hebrew & English, and our prayerbook has full English translations & transliterations; not understanding the Hebrew parts I am sure will feel no different than not understanding the Latin parts of a Catholic service!

    Judaism is all about praising One G*d, and worship is more a feeling than it is a word, anyway.

    Thanks again for your visit & story, and please feel free to stop by anytime!

    Best wishes for a Happy Holiday Season & Healthy New Year!

    Parker Zack

    PS: Please also tell Pat that Temple Sinai is extensively involved in a wonderful & historic Interfaith Service on Thanksgiving; our most recent one was held at Our Lady Queen of Peace, a Catholic church on Edgewood Avenue in Rochester. Something superb to add to her 2014 calendar!

    1. Luke

      Parker Zack,
      Thank you for your hospitality that day we came to visit; you definitely set the tone for us in feeling welcome at Temple Sinai. We will make sure to pass on the message to Aunt Pat, but she probably has also already seen your comment on here as well :) Thanks again and we look forward to one day returning.


    I’d like to invite you two (and Aunt Pat!) to our upcoming VERY special service that will be happening at Temple Sinai on Friday evening, 28 February, at 8:00 pm.

    We call it ROCKIN’ SHABBAT; it’s one of the most unusual and inspirational services I have ever attended at any Synagogue or Temple in my life; the energy at this service rivals any of the most spirit-filled worship services I have ever experienced in any religion or denomination. It’s kinda like the Jewish version of full-Gospel, but tamer; certainly nothing you will ever see at an Orthodox Synagogue.

    I was reading in your most recent (excellent!) post about Pentecostalism, and its history in Rochester; I dare say that our Rockin’ Shabbat service is a Jewish spoke of that spiritual wheel!

    While the atmosphere at our regular weekly Shabbat worship services is always one of a loving, welcoming and inviting openness, where unconditional acceptance, peace, and connection with one’s Creator or Higher Power prevails, at these special services, the accompanying music is an enhanced medium for that message.

    We would love to have you come back in the future for our Rockin’ Shabat outdoor service in the summer, which is sensational.

    Given your keen interest in architecture and how it shapes the worship experience, our poured concrete tent with its glass canopy nestled in the woods bordering Corbett’s Glen Nature Park in Penfield, on a crisp and cold snowy late February night, …the voices, electric guitars and drums of this very special worship service are calling out your names, beckoning you to return for a 2nd visit to Temple Sinai, to welcome what is always a desperately needed Shabbat – a day of rest, yes – with extreme joy, eagerly awaited throughout the week, when we take a “time out” from what is all too often an insane whirlwind of weekday concerns, and change channels to one of alternate pursuits.

    It is said: “More than the Jew has kept Shabbat, Shabbat has kept the Jew.”

    Shabbat is one of the holiest days in Judaism, the 7th day of every week (which begins on Sunday; Shabbat begins at roughly sundown Friday evening, lasting until after sunset on Saturday night.

    I hope you guys are able to come join us on the 28th to welcome the Sabbath Bride and celebrate with us, through music, our little oasis in time and space, one which energizes us to go back out into the world to work to strengthen and heal it.

    If you’re interested and wanting to attend, let me know, and we’d be glad to arrange to meet you (and any of your guests) and have you sit together with us for this fun service. If you’re unable to come, PLEASE tell your Aunt Pat and encourage her to contact me so she can finally have that long-awaited visit she’s been wanting, which has yet to be fulfilled, enabling her to cross *experiencing Temple Sinai* off her “bucket list!”

    Thanks for your awesome work on this website! Your recent blog post on Bethel Christian Fellowship on East Avenue is amazing, as are all your comprehensive and detailed postings. Your work has become an ever-growing mission, and I much appreciate & respect your phenomenal efforts.

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