Temple Sinai

Temple Sinai, Washington’s first Reform congregation in nearly a century, was founded in 1951.

Temple Sinai’s founding members hoped to create a less formal Reform service and attract unaffiliated families.

The group met for several years in locations in Northwest Washington, including the Bethlehem Chapel of Washington National Cathedral, before purchasing more than three acres of forested land overlooking Military Road, NW. The congregation completed a synagogue there in 1957.

Designed to evoke a tent in the desert and an end to wandering, the contemporary building features intimate, light-filled interior spaces. The architecture, which complements the congregation’s evolving Reform practices, was a conscious departure from the more monumental buildings of many larger synagogues built in the 1950s.

Renovations in 1993 added meeting and prayer space while respecting the building’s architectural integrity. Located within easy reach of Jewish households in the city and close-in suburban neighborhoods, Temple Sinai has grown to 1,150 families.

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Temple Sinai

Celebrating Sukkot, Bethlehem Chapel, Washington National Cathedral

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1. Celebrating Sukkot, Bethlehem Chapel, Washington National Cathedral

At the invitation of the Very Reverend Francis B. Sayre, Jr., Temple Sinai worshipped in the Bethlehem Chapel of the Cathedral from 1952 until its own synagogue was completed in 1957.

Temple Sinai Collections
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Cornerstone laying, 1956

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2. Cornerstone laying, 1956

The cornerstone, a 2,000-year-old stone from the Third Wall of Jerusalem, was laid in October 1956. The stone comes from one of three protective walls built during the time of the Second Temple to defend Jerusalem from invaders. Seen here at the cornerstone laying are congregation President David Yentis, Rabbi A. Balfour Brickner, and then U.S. delegate to the United Nations, Paul G. Hoffman (left to right).

© Washington Post
Temple Sinai, Military Road, N.W.

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3. Temple Sinai, Military Road, NW

Photograph by Jeremy Goldberg
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Temple Sinai, ca. 1990

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4. Temple Sinai, ca. 1990

Architect Nicholas Satterlee of Keyes, Lethbridge, Satterlee and Smith worked with Rabbi A. Balfour Brickner on the synagogue’s design. The contemporary low building features floor-to-ceiling glass and a gently curved roof.

Temple Sinai Collections. Photograph by Robert C. Lautman.
Temple Sinai Ark with artist Boris Aronson

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5. Temple Sinai Ark with artist Boris Aronson

New York set designer Boris Aronson designed Temple Sinai’s Ark. Asked why he took the assignment, he answered, “I wanted to build something that would not be taken down in eight weeks.”

© Washington Post; Reprinted by permission of the D.C. Public Library. Photo by Rosemary Martuffi.