Windows Of Light And Prayer
by Annmarie Fertoli, qboro Editor
01/17/2008  ©Queens Chronicle2008


For me, art is a way of exploring important questions," artist Shoshana
Golin said, although she admitted that she doesn't always know what those
questions are before she starts.

But her most recent project  designing 19 large-scale glass windows for
Young Israel of Hillcrest  demanded careful reflection on some of life's
most important questions.

The project began with the question "what is the role of the synagogue?"
But for Golin, the work also meant "understanding my place in creation, my
place in history, how I view my community's place in the world  and me
being a part of that," she said.

Golin, an artist and teacher, moved to the area four years ago, about the
same time Young Israel began its renovation project. Mark Gross, a board
member at the synagogue, said the idea was to modernize, and make the
facility lighter. Its old stained glass windows also needed to be replaced
for structural reasons.

Friends of Golin's family, who had seen her work, thought she would be a
good person to consult on the window designs that had already been submitted.

Looking around the synagogue, Golin recalled seeing the light filter into
the space."It struck me that that was the way to keep it," she said, adding
she also envisioned white sheets of glass with words. After discussing her
ideas, Golin was asked to submit some of her own designs, which were
eventually approved by the synagogue.

For the next year, Golin searched for a glassmaker who could bring her
designs to life. When she was just about to give up, a chance encounter in
Vancouver, British Columbia changed the course of the project. She met
glass artist John Nutter, who agreed to work with her. For the next three
and a half years, Golin mailed small-scale drawings of her designs to
Nutter, who packaged glass samples or sent her photographs of the work he
was doing at his studio.

The first of the windows were installed about two years ago, and after much
work  including one shipment that arrived broken  the last of the windows
was installed last spring.

Constructed from white and clear glass, the windows are divided into three
main sections. There are six in the synagogue's women's section, four in
the men's section, and nine in the shared section. Together, Golin said,
they tell the story of creation and history through prayer.

Written prayers and images are expertly crafted into the glass, in some
instances carved from both sides, to give the effect that the words are
floating. Depending on the time of day, as the light filters in through the
windows, parts of the dichroic glass change color, from magenta to blue to
gold.

Each of the three sections focuses on a particular aspect of the Jewish
faith. The women's section focuses on the story of creation, using circles
to represent the heavenly bodies as well as the lunar calendar. Bits of
colored glass signify separate pieces that were brought together out of
chaos to form the universe, Golin said.

Letters of the Hebrew alphabet and everyday prayers are included in this
first section.

The windows in the men's section represent the creation of the Jewish
people, tracing their history from the exodus from Egypt to Mount Sinai,
where they received the Torah.

In the first window, prayers are inscribed as if floating along the water
in the Red Sea; in the second, they rise to form a mountain, Golin
explained. The other two windows in the men's section represent Jewish holy
days, including Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.

The final and largest section, comprised of nine windows split into three
groups of three, recounts the formation of the Jewish state up through the
Holocaust, inviting further contemplation through prayer and image.

Even among the most difficult times, the inscriptions reflect undying hope
and faith. In the final windows, concentric circles rise again in unity,
lending a spirit of optimism and linking this final cycle back to the very
first.

Though the effort is massive in scope and awesome to behold, Golin remains
humble about her work. The idea, she said, was not to distract from prayer,
but to help focus it  to create something light and simple, "quiet but
beautiful."

And so far, the response has been overwhelmingly positive. "It's a very
unique project," Gross said. "I think it's world-class art."

Young Israel of Hillcrest is located at 169-07 Jewel Ave. To find out more,
call (718) 969 2990 or visit www.yhillcrest.org.