Object of the Month - August - Hebrew Union College - Jewish Institute of Religion
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Object of the Month - August

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Object of the Month August 2016

Door Knobs and Backplates Rockdale Avenue Temple, Cincinnati, 1905 Brass Gift of Howard and Marlene Mayers

The doorknobs and backplates affixed to the wall in the Cincinnati Skirball Museum originally graced the Rockdale Avenue building of K.K. Bene Israel, now located in Amberley Village. The Rockdale Avenue location in Avondale was the third home of this historic congregation, from 1908 until 1968. The doorknobs disappeared during the turbulent and tragic race riots of the late 1960s. Some years later, an employee of the Mayers Electric Company, owned by Howard and Marlene Mayers, reported that he knew of the whereabouts of these artifacts, and saw that they were entrusted to the care of Howard Mayers, whom he knew to be a member of Cincinnati’s Jewish community. The classical brass door knobs feature a carved Star of David in the middle of each handle.
K.K. Bene Israel, or Rockdale Temple is the oldest congregation west of the Alleghenies, founded in 1824. The Rockdale Avenue synagogue was a grand testament to the Greek Revival architecture popular during that time.  The trauma of the 1968 riots is described in an interview with two Rockdale congregants: “They came in and overnight the whole temple was destroyed.  They came in and they pulled out every fixture, every piece of brass, all the beautiful lights were pulled down…And it was just unbelievable, the destruction.  All the pews were broken and turned over, and the place was just ramshackled...Most of the destruction took place overnight.  They just came in and they just ripped the place apart.”  
Hannah Lempert, a student at the Mercaz High School in Cincinnati, was the first-place winner in an international photography competition sponsored by Beit Hatfutsot, The Museum of the Jewish People at Tel Aviv University.  This inaugural exhibition included photography by teens from North and South America, as well as Israel. Hannah featured the Rockdale door knobs in her work, writing: “The doorknob belonged to a Cincinnati synagogue which was desecrated in 1968. The hands represent the Jewish citizens today being able to keep the spirit of a welcoming temple vibrant. Remembering history is important to me as a Jewish teen because if the past is forgotten, history inevitably repeats itself.”