The Ner Tamid (Eternal Light) represents the Shechinah (the surface of contact between material reality and the trancendental), and Sam Katz's design is based on the duchening ritual that helps us bring the experience of the Shechinah near. Sam Katz's Ner Tamid is a three-piece sculpture, attached to the Ark by one bracket. It consists of the hands of the kohein, the Siddur (open to the text of the duchening), and the spark of light between. Between the hands, the thumb and forefingers form a heart. (The commandment on the sons of Aaron is the only one of the 613 that must be done b'ahavah. ["with love"])
When the shul was built, there was no money left for anything else. Originally, there was no built-in Ark, nor bima, nor seats.
Today, the shul's magnificent Ark and central bima dominate the building. They, and the two chairs flanking the Ark, were designed and built by Sam Katz in 1924.
Sam Katz was a master woodworker from the Ukraine. He was born around 1885, and came to America in 1911, settling two years later in Troy, New York, where he built bimahs and arks for the synagogues in Albany and Saratoga Springs.
Sam Katz was an expert joiner.
Sam Katz was an
After a few years, he moved to Chelsea, Massachusetts, and in time had woodworking shops there and in Dorchester. In the 1920's and 1930's, he made dozens of Arks for synagogues throughout the Greater Boston area, in neighborhoods that are now no longer Jewish, in buildings that no longer survive.
Of course, one couldn't make a living just by building Arks. He had two careers in America: The first was building large custom iceboxes, which were then a novelty, for restaurants and food distributors. The second was carving the animals and decorations for circus merry-go-rounds.
Circus merry-go-rounds are perhaps where Sam Katz acquired his taste for exposed lightbulbs, which are featured in many of his Ark designs. In total, there are eighteen exposed lights on the Ark at Adams Street, perhaps representing chai. Ten lights are on the rainbow-like arch, perhaps recalling the sefirot.
The six medallions that flank the parochet (curtain) contain words that are read in two columns, the right hand column first. They read: "Our Father, Our King, open the gates of heaven to our prayers."
Other symbols on our Ark include: The Star of David (symbol of the Jewish People), lions, representing the tribe of Judah (which, along with younger brother Benjamin and the Levites dispersed in their midst, are where we come from), a crown (representing either Keter Torah, or the Kingship of Heaven), tablets bearing the Ten Commandments, and the hem of the vestments of the Kohen Gadol (High Priest)
Sam Katz had sketchbooks filled with designs for Ark components. There was a price beside each. These could be mixed and matched in designing an Ark. A community would pick what it liked to the extent of its budget. Sam Katz would then design an Ark out of the pieces selected. Therefore, no two Sam Katz ark designs are alike, but each may contain elements that one has seen before in some other example of his work.
Temple Shalom in Needham has a Ner Tamid by Sam Katz on display, salvaged from an unknown source.
Sam Katz's sketchbooks are now preserved at The American Jewish Historical Society.
The Bima Committee of 1924
Louis Fried - Joseph Hoffman - Abraham Shreier - Joseph Roiter - Hyman Perry - Louis Baker - Samuel Bram