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Front view of the Temple
National Register photograph by Yen Tang

The Temple has served as a center for Atlanta's Jewish cultural, educational and social activities since its construction in 1931. It is the home of the city's oldest Jewish congregation--the Hebrew Benevolent Society, established in 1860 to serve the needs of the local German-Jewish immigrants. Operating from various rented rooms and halls, the congregation built its first permanent synagogue in 1875 in downtown Atlanta. Twice, first in 1902 and again in 1930, overcrowded facilities prompted the Reform Judaism congregation to build a new home. At the time of its construction, the current Temple was one of only a few synagogues in the state, which in 1926 had only 22 Jewish congregations and 13 synagogues. During the era of the Civil Rights struggle in the South, the Temple's rabbi, Jacob Rothschild, became an outspoken supporter of equality for all of Atlanta's citizens. On October 12, 1958, white supremacists bombed the northern side of the Temple in response to the rabbi's support of the Civil Rights movement. Although arrests were made, no one was ever convicted of the bombing. While Rabbi Rothschild's commitment to social justice angered some, many more were outraged at the bombing. An outpouring of support came from around the world to help reconstruct the damaged portions of the Temple.

The Temple is a fine example of a classically inspired religious building and the design is particularly noteworthy for its elaborate interior decorative scheme worked out by the architect in consultation with the Temple's rabbi to combine classical motifs with Jewish iconography. It was designed by Philip T. Shutze, an important early 20th-century Atlanta architect. Shutze was considered a master of classically inspired design and was also responsible for Swan House and the Academy of Medicine. The well-proportioned building features a pedimented portico, Ionic columns, drum dome and vaulted and domed sanctuary. Its finishing details include terrazzo floors, black marbleized-wood columns and gilded woodwork. Of particular note is the intricate plaster relief work on the interior of the sanctuary's frieze, cornice, vaults and dome. The focal point of the central altar area is the Ark--made of carved gilded wood. Above this hangs one of four red globes, the Eternal Light, brought from the first temple of the congregation built in 1875. This globe is suspended from a gilded eagle on the ceiling that represents the Great Seal of the United States and symbolizes Jewish freedom in America.

The Temple is located at 1589 Peachtree St. in north Atlanta. It is open to the public during normal worship services. Call 404-873-1731 or visit www.the-temple.org for more information.

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