My Experience Visiting Temple Beth El

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Updated: Aug 18, 2023
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Jewish synagogues and temples are the center of community life in Jewish culture. Firstly, they are houses of prayer and worship, but their purpose goes beyond that. Traditionally, Jewish synagogues have been a place of social welfare, feeding the poor and dispensing money to those in need. Growing up in New York, I had many friends who were Jewish, but I had never been inside a synagogue. On Friday, May 11th, I had the wonderful experience of visiting Temple Beth-El. The term Beth-El literally means ‘holy place’ and I learned that this is what the temple represents, but it does so much more.

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Walking into the synagogue, you feel that you are entering not only a house of worship but also a community center. Upon entering, I was greeted and enthusiastically shown around by Nancy Gross, a community volunteer. I learned about the temple, modern Judaism, and the variety of services Beth-El offers.

Temple Beth-El is a conservative Jewish synagogue in New Rochelle, New York. The Jewish community in New Rochelle has existed since the 18th century. Beth-El was established in 1948, primarily due to the large influx of European Jews into America following World War II and the migration away from urban areas in New York City. The current sanctuary was designed by a disciple of Frank Lloyd Wright in 1970, and you can see his influence once you walk inside. Given that the day I visited was sunny, the stained glass windows danced with colors and reflections. Having grown up in the Roman Catholic faith, I was used to church designs that were frequently based on the past. The sanctuary of Beth-El looks to the past by incorporating Noah’s Ark and other biblical stories, but it also incorporates contemporary Judaism and the future of the Jewish people. I loved the modern architecture, as well as the fact that the chairs can be moved and the space can be used for a variety of religious services. The Temple was set up that afternoon for services during the Sabbath that night and weekend.

In addition to hosting weekly Shabbat gatherings, Beth-El offers a variety of services for every member of the community. According to Nancy, the Beth-El Synagogue and Community Center is ‘alive with a full range of spiritual, educational, social, and recreational activities’. Some of these activities include daily prayers, summer day camps, fitness classes, religious and educational studies, and field trips for senior citizens. Walking around the temple, I was shocked by the number of different rooms available for activities. They have a museum where Judica history, as well as contemporary art, is displayed – again, connecting the past with the present. There was a library and a gym for fitness classes and a play area for children. A well-appointed reception hall, suitable for hosting a wedding or bat/bar mitzvah reception, as well as community events, takes up a large part of the space. After speaking with someone at the temple, they explained that they offer these activities as it is the purpose of the temple to not just ‘feed the soul’ with prayer but to nourish the entire person with literal food, culture, and community. In nursing, we are taught that Maslow’s hierarchy is anchored by physiological needs, followed by safety, belonging, love, esteem, self-actualization, and self-transcendence. Beth-El, by conscious or unconscious design, has tried to envelop their community members and satisfy all their ‘needs’.

As a nursing student, visiting Temple Beth-El was an eye-opening and wonderful experience. Over one million people who identify as Jewish live in New York today. We are taught as nurses that empathy and self-awareness make us more available to treat our patients. Empathy takes into account culture, beliefs, personal experiences, and the acute, unique, and scary circumstances that the patient is experiencing. By exposing myself and opening up about my experiences at Beth-El and with Judaism, I brought new insights and perspectives into myself and my nursing practice. I also learned the importance of a strong community base, especially for the elderly, and how it can impact an entire person’s well-being.

Nurses, by nature, are healers, creating spaces where those in their care can feel comfortable and express themselves in a nonjudgmental setting. By creating a space within yourself that is open to new ideas in your personal life, you become better equipped to be open in your professional life as a nurse.

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My Experience Visiting Temple Beth El. (2022, Aug 22). Retrieved from