Beth-Alpha Mosaic: Beth El Congregation's Labor of Love

The Mosaic shown below adorns the wall at the entry to the temple. This mosaic was created by congregants. It is a beautiful enhancement to our temple.


In the 5th and 6th centuries, the famous Beth-Alpha mosaic proudly adorned the floor of a large synagogue in Galilee. With its representations of the sacrifice of Isaac (upper left panel), the cosmic structure of the universe (circular center), and the ark of the covenant (upper right), the mosaic reflects the artist's conception of the universe, achieved by inserting the Jewish language and symbols into a Byzantine world.

Fifteen-hundred years later, and 6,000 miles away, an adaptation of that mosaic proudly adorns the entrance hall at Beth El Synagogue in Harrisonburg Va. 

The mosaic idea originated with Adrian Sonn, a Beth El trustee in 1964. A local artist, Helen Marshman, adapted the original Beth-Alpha mosaic, creating ink drawings and watercolor patterns to show where the tiles should be laid. The women of the Sisterhood, with some help from other congregants and members of the Harrisonburg community, then placed the tiles and completed the mosaic. The 15 devoted Sisterhood artists included Adrienne Sonn, president, Ruth Clayman, vice president, and Anne Mintzer, treasurer.

The 8-by-13-foot mosaic is made up of 13,000 pieces of tile. Each piece was individually glued into the frame, and the spaces between the tiles filled with grout. The tile, called Byzantine Smalti, represents as closely as possible the tile used by the artist who created the original Beth-Alpha mosaic 15 centuries ago. The Byzantine Smalti was imported from Italy. After many months spent planning the mosaic, creating the drawings, building the frame, and importing the tiles, it took ten weeks of devoted labor to place the tile. The work was completed and the frame secured in its place on the north wall of the entrance hallway in July, in time for the dedication of the Temple on August 23, 1964.

For the lovely mosaic that adorns our entrance -- with its inspiring depiction of the sacrifice of Isaac, its suggestion of the wider world in the Byzantine circular rendering of the Zodiac around the personification of the sun and her four horses, and its reassertion of the importance of the Jewish world in symbols of the ark and the candlesticks -- Beth El Congregation owes a debt of gratitude to a few creative and far-sighted individuals, and to the dedicated members of the Beth-El Sisterhood of 1964.