Just like Conservative Judaism itself, Tifereth Israel Synagogue was once predicted to one day be no more—or at least to be removed to the suburbs or reorganized with the local Reform congregation. By the twenty-first century, Tifereth’s then seventy year-old synagogue was beyond repair. The community was offered a sizable plot of land and chunk of change to move to the suburbs. But just like Conservative Judaism itself, Tifereth Israel remained. The money was raised, and the synagogue was redesigned and rebuilt, finally opening to its congregation in 2012.
Tifereth Israel’s redesign preserves the old while welcoming the new—again, just like Conservative Judaism itself. Its sanctuary includes all the features of a traditional synagogue: the Ark of the Covenant, where the Torah scrolls are housed; the Eternal Light, that illuminates the Ark from above; and the Bimah (pulpit), from which the Torah is read. But while the Eternal Light is an heirloom piece preserved from their original sanctuary, the cedar-planked Ark and sleek, removable Bimah are distinctly modern. Although the sanctuary itself can be expanded for larger events such as the High Holidays, a retractable wall usually divides it from a social hall. On one side of this sanctuary lies a kosher kitchen; on the other, an atrium featuring prints by Andy Warhol and Mauricio Lasansky.
In these spaces, Tifereth Israel upholds Judaism’s traditional rituals and practices, though sometimes in novel, modern ways. Traditional prayer services are held during the Friday evening and Saturday morning of Shabbat (Sabbath), but these services sometimes feature alternative styles—monthly “Acoustic,” “Tranquil Heart,” and “Family” services. Tifereth Israel of course also observes the entire Jewish ritual calendar—everything from the High Holidays of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, to the traditional pilgrimage festivals of Passover (Pesakh), Weeks (Shavuot), and Booths (Sukkot), to more recent historical holidays such as Holocaust Remembrance Day (Yom Ha-Shoah) and Israeli Independence Day (Yom Ha-Atzma’ut). But like many non-Orthodox congregations, Tifereth incorporates music into some of these services: a Tifereth Israel Choir performs at several special events, most notably the High Holidays, and a klezmer band often accompanies jovial holidays such as Simchat Torah, when the entire congregation dances with the Torah.
Just like Conservative Judaism itself, then, Tifereth Israel Synagogue takes a “conservative” approach to change. Unlike the more conservative Orthodox branches of Judaism, Conservative Judaism does not regard the 615 commandments (mitvot) given to Moses on Mt. Sinai, as well as the codification of these commandments into law (halakhah), as the verbatim word of God. But unlike the less conservative branches of Reform and Reconstructionism, Conservative Judaism does believe that mitvot and halakah are divinely inspired and therefore should only be changed conservatively. Back in the mid-twentieth century, these modifications involved driving on Shabbat, removing the screen that separates men and women in many Orthodox synagogues, and allowing young women to be bat mitzvahed. But in the late-twentieth century, modifications became more profound: the ordination of female rabbis, the ordination of LGBT rabbis, and the performance of same-sex marriages. And yet, all such changes are seen not as departures from the commandments and laws of God but as ways of realizing them more fully. So too, the welcoming of interfaith couples, an issue of special concern to Tifereth’s rabbi, Steve Edelman-Blank. With great wit and wisdom, “Rabbi Steve” guides Tifereth’s continuing efforts to conserve Jewish practices and traditions while enacting them more faithfully in our ever-changing, modern world.
- Tifereth Israel meets every Friday evening (6:00 pm) and Saturday morning (9:30 am) for Shabbat.
- See their online calendar for additional services: http://tifereth.org/happening/calendar/
Location and Contact Info
- 924 Polk Blvd, Des Moines
- Men must wear a kippah (yarmulke) in the sanctuary.
Photo by Bob Blanchard (http://www.bobblanchardphotography.com)