When the Democratic candidates for president face-off tomorrow in the Helen Bader Concert Hall in the Helene Zelazo Center for the Performing Arts at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, we are fairly certain that this is the first time a debate will take place in a former synagogue. (If anyone can counter this, we are excited to have that information!) Until the end of the 20th Century, this building held Congregation Emanu-El B’ne Jeshurun, the oldest synagogue in Milwaukee. The congregation was founded in 1856 and saw several mergers and splits in the following century.
This building was constructed in 1922 and was a central part of Jewish Milwaukee for decades. The interior was noted for its fourteen stained glass windows that were designed by the longstanding rabbi of the congregation, Joseph L. Baron. He incorporated Jewish values and ideals into these windows and that is the single remnant that remains within the debate space of its proud synagogue tradition. The themes of the windows are (try and keep an eye out for them on the PBS telecast tomorrow!):
- Worship, service
- Praise, psalm
- Loving kindness
- Law, learning
Baron explained the twelfth window in the following terms:
The greatest adventure of the modern age is the building of the New World. This is brought out in the twelfth window which has for its pictured emblem the familiar Liberty Bell, suggesting the time when the ancient proclamation of Leviticus resounded from one end of the earth to the other. It is of particular significance to us, American Jews, mindful as we are of the great moral and material contributions which the Jew has brought to America from the days of its earliest pioneers to the present, and the bountiful blessings which America has in turn bestowed upon the Jew. Beneath the emblem is the word which links the Hebrew Scriptures with the spirit of America, deror, “liberty.”
We hope the candidates recognize the importance of minority contributions to this country and understand the unique history of the location in which they are debating.