Projecting Light in a Time of Darkness: An Original Art Installation

Emanu-El is thrilled to re-animate an innovative art project by multimedia storyteller and Emanu-El member, Ben Wood, to light up our beloved building during Chanukah. The installation will be on view from November 28-December 6, 6:00 pm – 9:00 pm nightly. This large-scale light installation celebrates our history, by interweaving holiday and historical images. You are invited to drive or stroll past our building on Arguello, after sundown, to celebrate and bask in the miracle of the Festival of Lights! A special thank you to Judi Leff for lending her expertise and research to make this historic project possible. 

About Ben Wood 
Ben Wood is a public video artist based in San Francisco. In his work with large-scale projection and installations, he combines media art with historical subject matter. He is especially devoted to using contemporary visual media to animate public spaces with images of their unrecognized history, and exposing how histories of marginalized and often forgotten communities may be visually reintroduced into the physical landscape of the present. Wood is known for large-scale displays on Coit Tower, Haas-Lilienthal House, Saint Ignatius Church, within Mission Dolores, and other notable San Francisco landmarks. His work has also been exhibited at venues such as at the East West Center, in Honolulu and museums such as the Museo Nacional de Arte in Mexico City, the London Jewish Museum and the California Historical Society. He received a BFA from the San Francisco Art Institute and a Masters degree, in Visual Art from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He maintains his own multimedia design business and currently works for the Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy.  

For more information about his projects visit:

More About Emanu-El’s History
For anyone interested in learning more about the visionaries who helped create our Emanu-El community (as featured in the light installation), read on!

Rabbi Elkan Cohn: Congregation Emanu-Elelected Cohn as their rabbi in 1860. Rabbi Cohn led the membership in the direction of Reform, and preached ethical universalism. He helped “save California for the Union” during the Civil War, and was one of 38 distinguished citizens of the West who served as pallbearers in a large procession of mourners in San Francisco following Lincoln’s assassination.  Among Cohn’s greatest achievements was the erection in 1866 of Emanu-El’s Sutter Street Temple, modeled after the Gothic cathedrals of medieval England. With its two tapered towers, each topped with a bronze-plated dome, it was a prominent feature of the San Francisco skyline until its destruction in the earthquake and fire of 1906. He served Congregation Emanu-El for 29 years. 

Rabbi Jacob 
VoorsangerRabbi Jacob Voorsanger came to the San Francisco in 1886 from Houston, Texas. When Rabbi Cohn died in 1889, Rabbi Voorsanger became the leader of the congregation, holding that post until he passed away in 1908. Historical research hasuncovered the surprising information that the respected Voorsanger not only had no Rabbinical ordination, but he had not received any university training. In spite of his lack of formal preparation at the university level, he became a grand pulpit speaker and effective community leader. Directly following the 1906 earthquake, he was appointed chairman of the mayor’s Hunger Relief Committee, and set up food stations throughout San Francisco, in an effort spare the devastated city from famine. He was instrumental in bringing the plight of the city to the attention of Jews worldwide, resulting in an influx of global aid. 

The Ark: “Never in the history of Jewish synagogue art has anything so remarkable been fashioned” effused Rabbi Louis E. Newman at the Ark’s dedication at Sabbath services on February 5, 1927. Presented by the children of Marcus S. Koshland in memory of their father, Emanu-El’s Ark is a masterpiece of conception, design, and execution. Its form and highly adorned exterior (inspired by Jewish jewel boxes and descriptions of the ancient Ark of the Israelites) were designed by Temple architects John Bakewell, Arthur Brown, Jr. and Sylvain Schnaittacher in collaboration with Rabbi Newman and others. Ultimately, the ark’s construction required fourteen months to complete as well as a journey to London and France. When finished, the Ark not only reflected the genius of its original architect designers, but that of Dennison and Ingerson, whose exterior embellishments and inspired interior form a beautifully appropriate home for the Torahs. 

“Cantor Soprano” Julie Rosewald: Originally trained as an opera singer, Madame Rosewald was hired by Emanu-El in 1884 to substitute for Cantor Max Wolff, who had passed away unexpectedly. Though she was not officially trained as a cantor (cantorial investiture was opened to women in 1976), Julie Eichberg Rosewald served Emanu-El until 1893. In that capacity, she directed choir rehearsals, collaborated with the organist, made musical selections, and sang solo parts during services. She was affectionately known as “Cantor Soprano.” |

Rabbi Alvin Fine Rabbi Fine led Emanu-El for 16 years during the post-World War II era. A humanitarian and ardent advocate for civil rights, Rabbi Fine was also a charter member of the city’s Human Rights CommissionHe was a lifelong champion of racial justice, bringing, among others, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and Maya Angelou to speak to the congregation in the early days of the civil rights movement. A member of many civic and professional organizations, Rabbi Fine was a past chairman of the board of the American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California and the recipient of numerous awards — including the Jewish National Fund John F. Kennedy Peace Award in 1964 and the San Francisco Bar Association‘s Liberty Bell Award the same year. 

Levi Strauss: Levi Strauss is probably the best-known Jewish Pioneer of the American Wild West. Contrary to legend, Levi Strauss did not sell canvas (he did provide the funds for the patent, however). Strauss and his brother-in-law, David Stern helped fund the building of Congregation Emanu-El , of which they were members. Strauss also helped purchase land for Emanu-El’s new cemetery in Colma, south of San Francisco, and helped fund the Pacific Hebrew Orphans’ Asylum and Home, the Eureka Benevolent Society, the Hebrew Board of Relief, the Home for Aged Israelites. 
Isaias Hellman: Isaias Wolf Hellman was the premier Jewish banker and financier in the West from the mid-19th to the early 20th century, and one of the wealthiest and most prominent businessmen of his day. In 1905, Hellman merged the Nevada National Bank with Wells Fargo Bank, to form the Wells Fargo Nevada National Bank, and built it into a national powerhouse.  When San Francisco was devastated by the 1906 earthquake and fire, he was named to the finance committee of the Committee of 50, charged with rebuilding the city. Hellman was very active in raising money for the Jews caught in pograms in Russia during World War I. In the course of his life, he also donated significant funds to Mount Zion Hospital, the 1915 Panama-Pacific International Exhibition, the University of California,  Eureka Benevolent Society, and the Lick Observatory on Mount Hamilton near San Jose. 

The Matriarchs: The women pictured in this old photograph are: Jane (Rosenbaum) Brandenstein (center, sitting in black dress); her daughter, Flora (Brandenstein) Jacobi (seated to her right), and standing, Flora’s daughter; Frances (Jacobi) Hellman (wife of Marco Hellman) and Frances’ son; Warren Isaias Wolf Hellman III. These matriarchs represent the Rosenbaum, Brandenstein (MJB coffee), Jacobi (vintners) & Hellman (Wells Fargo Bank) families, who were among the many German-Jewish families who founded and supported nearly every aspect of local Jewish life. They were joined by pioneering Jews other parts of Europe and the rest of the world to create a flourishing Jewish community in SF. 

Emperor Norton: Emperor Norton I is both a legend and a historic figure. A failed gold rush-era businessman, he was adopted by the press to become a beloved civic mascot and the city’s first genuine tourist attraction. Referring to himself as Emperor of the United States and Protector of Mexico, Norton issued several decrees, including the first proposal for a transbay bridge and tunnel. He also famously printed his own currency bonds. The acceptance and celebration of his existence is a touching early example of San Francisco’s legacy of eccentricity and whimsy.