By Michael Sudhalter
October 26, 2023
By Michael Sudhalter
Saving historical artifacts takes effort, but Hollace Ava Weiner, director of the Fort Worth Jewish Archives, decided it was worthwhile for Congregation Beth-El to restore more than 20 religious-themed art-glass medallions that had long been in storage.
“It’s prestigious to save your culture and traditions and show them to the next generation,” Weiner said. “It passes on an appreciation for the tradition. It proves you don’t have to throw something away because it’s old and no longer trendy. It is such a relief to have them out of boxes and on display. At times, it seemed like it would never happen.”
Historic Fort Worth Inc. understands the gravity of the achievement, honoring Congregation Beth-El with a Preservation Achievement Award at an award presentation ceremony on Thursday, Oct. 19, on West 8th Street. Weiner and Beth-El Rabbi Brian Zimmerman, along with Don and Debora Young of the Don Young Glass Studio, were on hand to accept the award for restoring 75-year-old glass. It was the first such honor that Beth-El has been awarded.
This year, Weiner and Cohen collaborated with the Youngs. Don Young had worked at Beth-El during its construction in 2000.
“Eleven medallions were installed in three transoms in a corridor leading to the Hall of Remembrance,” Weiner said. “When you find the person that knows how to do the craft, it can be done.”
The circular windowpanes, measuring 12×14 in diameter, were created in Dallas in 1948 at a glass and mirror studio by artist Erno Fabry. The following year, they had been installed at Congregation Beth-El’s location at 207 West Broadway.
They stayed there until 1999, when the synagogue moved to 4900 Briarhaven Road.
At the time of the move, not everyone agreed that the medallions were worth saving, since that would mean the juxtaposition of a 21st-century building with mid-20th-century designs.
The congregation reached a compromise where 12 medallions, each of which depicted one of the 12 tribes of Israel, was placed in the modern Beth-El’s Hall of Remembrance museum space in 2002.
“After researching the images in the archives and the temple library, the preservationists realized that each window pane pictures a ceremonial object used in Jewish communities annihilated during the Nazi era,” Weiner said.
It took $7,000 in private funds to preserve the remaining 11 medallions, which included a depiction of a silversmith in Frankfurt, Germany, as well as Torah mantles from England and Italy, respectively.
“Two members of the Beth-El Brotherhood constructed plywood crates padded with bubble wrap to cushion each piece of antique glass,” Weiner said. “The crates were stored in the Archives office of Beth-El’s new building.
These medallions were on display twice over the next two decades, but it wasn’t until architectural historian Judith “Judy” Singer Cohen made a donation to the Fort Worth Jewish Archives that the medallions could be reused and displayed.
Last year, Beth-El contracted with Alfred Walker of Light By Design to display eight medallions with dramatic backlighting. Those medallions included a menorah, symbols of various Jewish holidays, a shofar, a Passover plate and a display of the Ten Commandments.
This year, more medallions include two Torahs, a plate shaped like a Star of David, a tefillin case and a spice box.
Weiner became the director of the Jewish Archives at the same time Congregation Beth-El was relocating to Briarhaven.
“I knew I’d be writing the centennial history of Beth-El and in order to do that, I’d have to organize all of the archives — which took a long time,” said Weiner, who moved to Fort Worth from Washington, D.C., in 1977.
The restoration and display of the medallions has been the crowning achievement of Weiner’s time with the Fort Worth Jewish Archives.
“Beth-El has preserved a lot from its past, including giant menorahs,” Weiner said. “It’s important that we carry our heritage with us and this effort reinforces how beautifully we were able to do that. Many of the congregants have asked ‘Where did you get that? It’s beautiful.’”