“Sacred Space”

by Chanie Wilhelm 

I read the names that surround me on panes of stained glass,

Their reflection igniting my prayer book in shades of brilliant color.

Names, dates, years, memorialized mothers, fathers, sons, daughters--

Perhaps she prayed in the very same place I am standing now, asking G‑d to watch over her children?

And perhaps he was a Chazzan, leading the prayers as my husband is doing now?

And perhaps their young children came to the synagogue, laughing as they climb up and down the stairs to the Bimah, as my children do now.

The hallowed walls around me whisper stories of

The people, the generations they’ve watched

Come and sit and pray and grow and change.

The starry sky above the Bimah, bearing witness to a children’s Sunday school play, countless Torah readings, and the Shofar blasts,

The Ner Tamid, faithfully flickering as it presided over prayers,

The Machzorim which absorbed congregants' tears during dozens of Yizkor services,

The iconic Yiddish signs warning congregants not to talk about Shul politics,

The bench plaques that were painstakingly and lovingly restored,

The Aron which welcomed a new Torah amidst a grand celebration in 1933 and then another in 2009--

Every part of this building is a piece of history.

On Sunday morning, these stained glass windows cast one last glow

On the prayer books, igniting them in brilliant color

And then suddenly, into flame.

And in an instant, all that is left of this sacred space

are smoke-filled memories

And shattered pieces of history.