For our July 1, 2022 issue, we’ve selected an extra special cover depicting a small piece of a massive installation of Dale Chihuly’s famous glass art at the growing Hampton Synagogue campus in Westhampton Beach. And this rare collaboration all started with a matzah and a joke.
Rabbi Marc Schneier of Hampton Synagogue explains that while his family usually celebrates Passover in Israel, in April 2021, the family decided to spend the holiday at his mother Donna Schneier’s home in Palm Beach. During the annual ritual of hiding the matzah — in which the child who finds it and presents it to the head of the household receives a gift and the other children are promised commitments for gifts — Donna surprised her son with a commitment of his own, at least jokingly.
“All the grandchildren got their commitments from my mother, and then my mother, jokingly, turns to me and says, ‘OK, Big Shot, what do you want?’ It was as a joke,” Schneier recalls. “At the time I was 62 years old. And as I’m looking around the beautiful salon in her home, admiring all the Chihuly glass, I tell her, ‘I want you to introduce me to Dale Chihuly.’”
Schneier describes his mother as a well-known collector of glass and ceramic art with a “collection has been acclaimed globally,” and he also credits her with being one of the first to discover the talents of Dale Chihuly over 40 years ago. At first, she must’ve thought he was joking. “No, you’re out of your mind,” Schneier remembers her saying, but he had a vision for the development of Hampton Synagogue’s new children’s center, Jack’s House, and was determined to see it through.
Meeting Dale Chihuly
In June of 2021, mother and son Schneier, Hampton Synagogue President Carol Levin and about 30 other members of the synagogue traveled to Washington State to meet Chihuly at his Seattle studio. A “great synergy” was felt as the details of the commission were discussed, and when the Hampton Synagogue members left Washington, they did so with a promising new partnership formed. For her tremendous contribution to this exciting arrangement, Donna asked one thing of her son: a small plaque on Jack’s House that reads, “Thank You, Mom.”
Birthed from the desire to increase Hampton Synagogue’s ability to serve children of the Westhampton Beach and neighboring Jewish communities, Jack’s House features two stories packed with a reception hall, exhibition hall, music studio, dance studio, culinary studio, children’s library, the Barnet Family Children’s Chapel and more than 30 Chihuly glass installations presently, with more expected through summer 2023. With a name suggested by Carol Levin to honor late Hampton Synagogue co-founder and Holocaust survivor Jack Gora, Jack’s House will celebrate the completion of phase one of its fundraising and development, which began July 4 of last year — with a dedication on Sunday, July 3.
“It’s a marvelous community — very supportive, very generous in their support,” says Levin, who helps manage fundraising, noting that even with the Jack’s House financial campaign separate from regular support of synagogue programming, their community had no trouble swiftly raising the funds for the Chihuly installations and other features. She also adds that with no dues required for synagogue membership, the abundance of generosity is a true testament to how supportive their members are.
Dale Chihuly Fiori
Featured on the cover of Dan’s Papers this week, are three of 36 Fiori (Italian for flowers) forms that comprise Chihuly’s “Hampton Fiori Window,” which appear as if floating along the walls and windows of the Barnet Family Children’s Chapel. “They’re lit in a special way that looks like — and this is Dale Chihuly’s genius — the light is coming from the Fiori,” Levin says.
“The vibrant colors, which are inspired by the ‘ephod,’ communicate so brilliantly when the sun is shining through,” Keri Schroeder, Chihuly Studio director of sales explains. The ephod are sacred breastplates worn by the Jewish high priests of ancient Israel’s Holy Temple, and are only one of the Biblical narrative elements woven into Chihuly’s works at Hampton Synagogue. A set of 12 Fiori forms found in the chapel specifically use the colors of the original 12 Tribes of Israel, and even the total number of Fiori, 36 (a multiple of 18), is symbolic due to the number 18’s status as the Hebrew word/number for life — both serving as further proof that Chihuly has certainly done his research.
Levin describes watching Chihuly carefully sketch and design the pieces commissioned by the synagogue as “fascinating,” and Schroeder adds that a high level of commitment to the details is par for the course. “Chihuly’s process is the same whether he’s developing work for an exhibition or a commission project,” she says. “He always starts by considering the space and how his work might affect the environment. Throughout his career, Chihuly’s focus has been to explore the relationship between light, space and form, and to study the power of light through transparent media.
Also on view now is Chihuly’s take on an “Eternal Light,” a hanging lantern that represents the light that burned perpetually in the Holy Temple. This piece was designed in the form of the artist’s iconic chandeliers using gold glass, which represents the crown atop the head of the Temple’s high priest.
The next piece to debut at the Barnet Family Children’s Chapel will be unveiled this September for Rosh Hashanah. This “most magnificent” glass menorah will be affixed to the wall across from the chapel windows, where its seven branches will act as a reminder of the similar the seven-branched menorah found at Israel’s Holy Temple. “I was blown away by the menorah,” Schneier says. “He designed the menorah in the colors of blue and white. Maybe he had in mind the colors of the Hamptons, but blue and white happen to be the colors of the modern state of Israel.”
He continues, “The main sanctuary of the Hampton Synagogue was, in 1993, designed and built in Israel and shipped from Israel to the Hamptons. So Israel is at the very core of the Hampton Synagogue’s existence. And now we have the Temple menorah, which represents the past, the present and the future — the actual seven-branched candelabra but in the colors of blue and white. Every facet of these glass installations tells a very powerful and meaningful story.”
Dale Chihuly Holocaust Memorial at Jack’s House
Chihuly’s final addition to Jack’s House will come in summer of 2023, when he erects a glass Holocaust memorial dedicated to the 1.5 million Jewish children killed during the genocide. While this may be Chihuly’s first Holocaust memorial, he’s worked closely with Jewish communities in the past — collaborating with Shaare Emeth Synagogue in St. Louis, Missouri in 1980 and mounting a major solo exhibition at the Tower of David Citadel in Jerusalem in 1999.
The leadership of Hampton Synagogue wants to grow its community outreach both in terms of children’s programming and facilities through Jack’s House, but also by helping Westhampton Beach become the art destination they know it can be.
“What we’re doing for the Village of Westhampton Beach is to become a great destination for art,” Schneier says of Chihuly’s growing array of art at Jack’s House. “It’s a real treasure that we anticipate will see a steady flow of visitors from around the world coming out to the Hamptons.”